See also: Writing Marketing Copy

Copywriting is the production of written text, or ‘copy’, for sales or marketing purposes. It may therefore take the form of short advertising taglines, longer-form advertising content, social media or web posts, sales emails and letters, white papers, scripts for radio or television advertisements and content marketing posts. The crucial aspect that distinguishes copy from other forms of writing is that it aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately to sell a product or service.

Copywriting is essentially the art of written persuasion. Copywriters use words, which may eventually be either written or spoken, to persuade people to act in some way. Usually, this means to buy a product or service. However, the action may also be more indirect: to find out more, or simply to raise awareness of a brand. This page discusses the skills needed for good copywriting.

The Benefits of Good Copywriting

Marketers will doubtless tell you that good copy was always important.

However, in the age of the internet, when there is such a huge amount of information available, creating good copy has become even more crucial.

Good copy is more likely to be shared more often, and therefore broaden your organic reach on social media and via search engines. It is also more likely to be understood by more people—and therefore be more effective.

Copywriting vs. Content Marketing

You may be wondering if copywriting is the same as content creation or content marketing.

The answer is that the two are not precisely the same, although there is some overlap.

  • Content marketing focuses on sharing information, raising brand awareness and building a relationship with potential customers.
  • Copywriting is a more direct approach that aims to persuade readers to take action of some kind. ‘Calls to action’ may include buying a product, or downloading a white paper.

However, some content marketing will require copy, in the sense that it will be designed to encourage readers to act in some way: sign up for a webinar, perhaps, or download a white paper. This is where the overlap between the two occurs.

You can find out more in our page on Content Marketing. You may also be interested in our guest posts on five skills needed by content marketing copywriters and the skills needed by content marketers.

Characteristics of Good Copywriting

Before looking at the skills needed by good copywriters, it may be helpful to consider the characteristics of good copywriting.

1. It gives you another perspective

Copy that really makes you think changes your perspective or view.

The best copywriting therefore finds another angle on an issue. It makes you think about things in a slightly different way—and therefore exposes a gap in your life, or something that you need to consider again.

A crucial way to do this is to focus on why things matter, or in copywriting jargon, ‘benefits not features’.

In other words, don’t tell people about the features of a product or service. Instead, tell them what they will gain from using it. If in doubt, make sure that your copy answers your customer’s key question: What’s in it for me?

2. It connects a product with an emotion

Buying decisions are not always logical. Logic often plays a role, but many purchases are discretionary. We don’t need to make them, and therefore we need a reason to do so. That means bringing in emotions (and there is more about this balance between logic and emotion in persuasion in our page on Developing Persuasion Skills).

Good copywriting links to our emotions, and makes us feel a connection to the product.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.

Steve Jobs, quoted in Wired

3. It draws you in

Any headline is designed to get you to read further. The next line has to make you want to read on—and so on.

The sole purpose of the first sentence in an ad is to get you to read the second sentence.

Joe Sugarman, legendary copywriter and advertiser

The best copywriting draws you in. It catches your attention and makes you want to read more.

4. It shows that the writer has listened to their audience

The best copywriting accurately reflects its audience’s views. It also uses language that they will understand and relate to: effectively, that they themselves would use.

This can only happen if the writer (or someone briefing the writer) has spent a considerable amount of time listening to their potential customers: the copy’s planned audience. This means that the copy can help the company to build a relationship with their customers.

5. It keeps things short and simple

The best copy uses plain language, short sentences, and no jargon.

It speaks to its audience directly and straightforwardly. This doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’, but keeping it simple and easy to understand. It also focuses on what really matters (what’s in it for the customer), so that they can quickly and easily see what benefits they will gain.

TOP TIP! Make every word count

In copywriting, one of the most useful tips is to ensure that every word matters.

Pare the words down to the bare minimum needed to get your meaning across.

Ask yourself: is this word or phrase needed, or could I remove it or replace it with a shorter, simpler alternative?

There is more about how to do this in our pages on Writing Concisely and Writing in Plain English.

Skills Needed for Copywriting

It will be clear from the characteristics of good copy that copywriters need a range of skills.

  • Writing skills are perhaps the most fundamental skill for copywriters.

    Copywriters need to be able to write well and clearly.

    They need a good understanding of grammar and syntax, and how to write in plain language. Poor use of language will put off or confuse potential customers. They need to know how to use the active and passive voice appropriately—although most copy is most likely to use the active voice. They also need to understand the effect of clichés, and know when to use and avoid them.

    However, copywriters also need other skills.

  • Copywriters need to know and understand their audience.

    The second area of competence for copywriters is an understanding of their audience.

    This will vary between jobs and clients, which means that they also need to be good at researching and listening to their audience.

    TOP TIP! Use social media and reviews to listen to your customers

    Both social media and product reviews on retail sites are very good ways to find and listen to your customers.

    Sites like Reddit and Quora provide a forum for people to discuss products, services and issues. If you listen in to conversations, you will get useful information about the language that people use, and the issues that matter to them.

    Our page on Gathering Information for Competitive Intelligence provides some more ideas about how to gather this information.

  • Copywriters understand and use proven persuasion techniques

    They understand how to persuade people using proven persuasion techniques.

    For example, they understand the balance between logic and emotion. They know how to craft a strong call for action, and when to apply urgency. They appreciate the power of social proof—the evidence that others are already using the product, and finding it useful—and they know how to use it.

    You can find out more about these techniques in our page on Developing Your Persuasion Skills, which describes two models of influencing, Robert Cialdini’s Influence Weapons, and Tim Baker’s Persuasion Strategies.

    Good copywriters also know the power of storytelling, and how to use it in business.

    Crucially, good copywriters do not just understand the power of techniques like these. They also know when and how to use them for maximum effect.

  • Copywriters are able to think creatively

    Copywriters need to be able to think creatively to find that crucial alternative perspective.

    Since the earliest days of advertising, copywriting has been seen as a creative role. Copywriters therefore tend to be good at creative thinking, even if they do not necessarily use formal creative thinking techniques such as brainstorming.

Summing Up Copywriting

Copywriting is, essentially, being able to use the power of words to persuade people into action.

It therefore requires a combination of ability to use words, and ability to persuade, coupled with some creative thinking to find new ways to describe old problems or situations.