by Elisabeth Strasser, Professional Writing MA Student
Quick links on this page:
Lizzie and I met when she came to do a student placement at Strategy Digital - an agency I worked at in Bristol. She approached me recently through LinkedIn and asked if I'd be interested in publishing a post she'd written as part of her course at Falmouth University.
The post was about copywriting skills and included interviews with some leading industry experts. I usually concentrate on fiction on my blog, but I thought the experts' copywriting tips and advice could be really useful to fiction writers who are looking to make some money from writing non-fiction.
It's easier to get published by writing non-fiction than fiction. This means you can gain valuable experience from working with editors before your first fictional story is accepted and published. It prepares you for constructive criticism, edits and rewrites.
I started out writing for local papers and learned SO much from it. It meant I became less precious about my writing and more open to input from others. This resulted in me writing better stories and having more success with getting my work published.
So, I decided to publish Lizzie's post. I hope you find it helpful. If you have any comments or questions, please use the form at the bottom of the page.
In a world where any kind of information is just a few swipes away on a mobile device, words are more powerful than ever. What better time to become a copywriter and get your carefully crafted writing read by a global audience? But what does it take to become a great online copywriter? I interviewed six industry professionals and found the following six key copywriting skills writers need to create brilliant content for the web.
“There’s a lack of understanding of the amount of research that goes into a piece before a copywriter even starts writing.”
Lucy Cripps, Freelance Writer and Proofreader
Just like copy offline, to create informed content that satisfies online users, copywriters need to be able to research thoroughly and quickly. Often you’ll have to start from scratch with no previous knowledge of what you’ll be writing about. It is essential to know where you have to go for information, who to ask for help and how to use a search engine to its full potential. And don’t forget to check your sources and see if they’re trustworthy.
Since you might have to plunge into a topic you’ve never heard of, but need to write about it to an expert’s standard, the research process may take even longer than the actual writing of the piece. Over time copywriters gain knowledge across a wide range of subjects and industries. As a writer you should know what you’re talking about and good research is the best back up for an informed piece of work.
“Remaining relevant is key.”
Laura Cyples, Copywriter at We are Word Nerds
It’s important to stay informed about the latest trends and current affairs, particularly online, as changes occur within hours or even minutes. Through social media anything that happens around the world can be shared by anyone with a global audience in an instant. Trending topics are in constant flux and a skilled copywriter is able to react to these changes and provide fresh content.
The Internet as an information hub offers easy access to trending topics. Find the latest news on Google News and Google Trends, where you can search by country and in different categories. On social media, Facebook and Twitter provide trending topics, which are influenced by your location and who you follow and the pages you like. This will give you an insight into what the community or your audience is looking for and what they are likely to be interested in and share. The topics in the trending sidebar are usually short-lived, but there are tools that can help you get a general overview and give you an idea of what to write about.
“Qualities that all copywriters need: a willingness to adapt and learn as new technologies emerge.”
Lucy Cooper, Writer at Stranger Collective
As a copywriter, you should be able to easily adapt to new situations. The interesting but challenging thing about writing online is the various formats that you are required to write in. For example, there are blog posts, social media releases, website copy and infographics, each of which demand a different style. It is crucial to adopt the right tone of voice that serves both the needs of the business and the consumer. And you have to be able to switch between styles or different tones of voice with ease.
When I started to write this post, I knew that arranging the skills you need as a copywriter in a list would work well online. Titles containing numbers tend to perform well. You can learn a lot more about titles using this tool.
Next, I sought out valuable copywriting tips from experts. The interviews add credibility to the post. They are also likely to mean more exposure as my interviewees might share a post they have contributed to with their audiences.
“In essence, this means thinking even harder about the people who might buy your stuff/use your services, and regularly producing content – ‘how to’ guides, original research, lists of expert tips – they’ll find genuinely useful or entertaining.”
Kieran Haynes, Senior Copywriter at Radix Communications, about the rise of Content Marketing
Content has to appeal to a broad audience online and knowing who your audience is will help to create useful content for them. A copywriter has to keep usability and how people read on the web in mind. Readers online want to get information quickly. Usually they come to a website via search engine results and skim read to find what they’re looking for. If you can’t provide an answer within seconds, they’ll click back and look for a better result. To provide for online users, it’s important to use:
All of these things make a web page easier to scan for an answer to a search query. It is also useful to think about the devices the user will read on. Mobile devices have brought on a revolution in web design, which also changed the way copy is written. Websites are more visual, which means the text that is required has to be spot on.
Market research can come in handy here to provide you with data that will help you understand who your audience is. Knowing the demographics of your audience is the first step towards finding the right tone of voice. Or in other words, to reach your audience, you have to speak their language.
“Writing for the web, a copywriter needs to be aware of how to apply SEO, but not at the price of sounding like a robot.”
(Lucy Cooper, Writer at Stranger Collective)
Since the latest Google algorithm updates, there’s a great demand for unique high quality content, which is good news for skilled copywriters. Keyword stuffing and many other Black Hat SEO techniques don’t work as well as they used to. Gone are the days where web copy was written for Google bots rather than humans. Today, it’s informative content for real users that ranks well. SEO still has its place but it’s important to be subtle and use long-tail keywords, three or four-word phrases that users actually look for, instead of using single keywords as often as you can on one web page.
It can be hard to write good content that stands out. More pessimistic voices speak of ‘content blindness’ and the ‘death of content marketing’, which implies that readers will be overwhelmed by too much choice. My interviewees, however, were confident that the extremely competitive market will only fuel creativity and demand more skill from copywriters.
“You have to create an experience online and words are only one part of the interaction and the way people consume and create content.”
Kathryn Dawson MBA, Digital Marketing Strategy Consultant
Copywriters have to keep a lot in mind when producing content for the web. Only the last finishing touch is missing on our list of skills. It’s time to get readers hooked and draw them in. As a brilliant copywriter you should know how to write headlines that users want to click as well as the engaging body copy that needs to follow such a headline.
In recent years, there has been a shift from advertising to information sharing. Customers are looking for helpful content and will not be impressed with simply praising the product and telling them why it’s the best. The key to informative content is to “not mention or go into depth about the product you’re selling; instead become your industry's go-to guy, the guy who has the answers.” (Lucy Cripps, Freelance Writer and Proofreader) Show that you are the expert in the field rather than boring readers with dreaded sales speak.
If you get all these points right, you will discover the power of words and see the impact of good content through better page rankings, social media sharing and increased sales. Online, you can review statistics to see what works and what doesn’t, which can make copywriting a rewarding job.
Here’s what my interviewees said were the most rewarding aspects of their work:
Suzanne Inman, Copywriter and Communications Expert at Mightier Words: “The most rewarding thing is to be able to actually see the difference changing text on a page makes.”
Lucy Cripps: “The research is rewarding, as you get the most random general knowledge across all kinds of fields.”
Kathryn Dawson: “You get the opportunity to develop an authoritative voice and thought leadership.”
Laura Cyples: “The ability to interact and instantly communicate with readers is extremely rewarding.”
Kieran Haynes: “You get to see your inspired turns of phrase immortalised (that is, until the next rebrand) in pixels, anytime you want, front-and-centre on a company’s homepage.”
Lucy Cooper: “When it all comes together, it’s rewarding to see the power of words in action, getting people sharing, thinking, talking, doing.”
Elisabeth is currently studying a Professional Writing MA at Falmouth University. Her enthusiasm for copywriting and online marketing was sparked during a work placement with digital marketing agency Strategy Digital (later acquired by Fat Media) in Bristol in 2013. Since then, Elisabeth has gained more experience in writing within a professional environment while working as an Online Marketing Assistant in Austria before she decided to move to Cornwall to focus on improving her writing skills further.
I'd like to say a big thank you to Lizzie for all the work she has put into this post. Conducting interviews and getting input from others (not to mention editing when difficult website owners ask for changes to be made... sorry Lizzie) can be very time consuming.
If you have a topic you think you could write about for my blog, please read my submission guidelines and get in touch.