A copywriter creates clear, succinct, and compelling copy for advertising or marketing materials like emails, websites, social media, outdoor advertising, and so much more. They can even create a brilliant (if we do say so ourselves) article that answers ‘What does a copywriter do?’ in just a few thousand words.
Copywriters usually work closely with designers and strategy teams to ensure the copy is easy to read and understand, and looks good.
(That’s when we aren’t drinking whiskey and lying on the sofa waiting for inspiration to strike, as per the documentary Mad Men.)
A copywriter is a brilliant addition to your business if you’re planning to create advertising or marketing materials. They’ll be able to take who you are, what you do, the pain points you’re solving for customers, and who you’re talking to and distil this into captivating messages that sell your products, educate customers, and – most importantly – entertain them.
To answer ‘what does a copywriter do?’ it’s helpful to start with:
What is a copywriter?
The natural next question after asking ‘What does a copywriter do?’
A copywriter is a professional who writes for businesses, specifically for their marketing and advertising materials.
What goes into making a brilliant copywriter are lots of different skill sets (writing is just one of them). Here are just a few of the things copywriters do as part of their role:
- Create ideas
- Take ideas and turn them into a strategy
- Understand data
- Manage different projects and client needs
- Measure results
- Tie campaigns together
- Understand the wider implications of the content they produce
- Source images
Maybe it’s easier to ask what isn’t a copywriter?
Asking ‘what does a copywriter do?’ also means asking ‘what doesn’t a copywriter do?’ We’re here to answer some common misconceptions:
- We have absolutely nothing to do with copyright law
- We don’t just write short copy – copywriters create long-form content too
- We don’t spend our days living the life of Don Draper from Mad Men (we tried it, but our whiskey threshold just isn’t that high)
What’s the difference between marketing copywriters and content writers?
Copywriters and content writers aren’t like doctors or lawyers, where there’s a specific definition of their job with one recognised set of qualifications they need to earn to become one.
Everyone uses the terms marketing copywriters and content writers differently, and some of us use them interchangeably.
Here’s how we define the two:
A marketing copywriter is a professional who creates compelling, concise, and clear copy for marketing materials.
A content writer is a professional who creates clear, compelling content for websites and other digital marketing properties.
The main difference here seems to be the length and location of the words. Copywriters are seen to write short, pithy headlines and descriptions. While content writers are seen to create longer content like blog posts and product descriptions. If we analyse the definitions above, it also appears that content writers create content for websites and other digital materials, rather than brochures or offline marketing properties.
At Proof Content, we see ourselves as a bunch of copywriters. But you could just as easily call us content writers, or simply writers. Although calling us writers gives the impression we’re also poets, novelists, and journalists. So it’s better to be more specific (although some of us are those things too).
What types of copywriter specialisms are there?
Many copywriters will be generalists, but you may find you want someone who specialises in a particular type of writing. Here are a few copywriter specialisms:
Ad copy specialist
An ad copywriting specialist is brilliant at writing terse, powerful, and eye-catching copy for ads – whether that’s PPC, outdoor advertising, or social media ads.
Digital copywriters create content and copy for all things digital, including:
- Social media
- Email newsletters
Blog writers specialise in creating thought leadership, SEO-focused, or newsworthy content that sits on a company’s or person’s blog.
SEO writers know the ins and outs of keywords, link building, and other aspects of SEO. Their job is to create content that gets you traffic, specifically the right kind of traffic.
Once you have all of that lovely traffic it’s time to convert it. A conversion copywriter’s job is to write content that really sells your product or services. They’re masters at creating CTAs (Calls to Action).
Key Messaging specialists
Key Messaging copywriters are a very specialised niche. They’re able to go through a long, intricate process to understand exactly what your company does, who you are, your values and goals, and much more. They then turn all of that into Key Messages you can use again and again. This type of copywriting is related to branding, and will usually be a one-off project.
Copywriter qualifications to look out for
Hiring a copywriter based on their qualifications isn’t as easy as hiring an astronaut or scientist (both notoriously easy roles to fill). There are lots of different copywriter qualifications, and it can be hard to know which ones are the most suitable for what you’re looking for.
Equally, as a copywriter looking to become more qualified, or someone trying to start a career in copywriting, knowing which qualifications will add the most value to your career can be tricky.
It’s best to look out for the most important skills of a copywriter when you’re hiring, rather than focusing on awarded qualifications. Although formal qualifications can certainly help you avoid the fiverr copywriter style. We’ve popped some of the best certifications and skills to keep an eye out for below.
Here are some of the most important things that copywriters do, and how you can test for them when hiring an agency or copywriter:
This is, of course, the main skill a copywriter needs to have mastered. But what we consider to be good writing at school (e.g. knowing the basics like spelling and grammar) is just a small part of what makes a brilliant copywriter.
Understanding how to write something that connects with your target audience, and takes their needs and wants into account, is important. They also need to be able to write in the correct tone of voice and understand how to add in all of the information the content needs in an interesting, succinct, and enticing way.
Qualifications for writing include:
Practical writing skills to look out for:
When hiring an in-house copywriter, check their writing skills by asking them to create a piece of content during the application process. When you receive the sample back, answer these questions:
- Do you want to read on to the next sentence?
- Does it contain all of the information it needs to? And is the copy rich in information with absolutely no unnecessary fluff or filler?
- Does it take the audience and their prior knowledge into consideration?
- Does it match your tone of voice?
- Is it lively and interesting to read?
- Does it match the brief you sent? If the brief includes keywords, for example, does it contain all of the keywords mentioned, in the right places? And do the keywords feel natural or are they shoe-horned in?
The skills of a copywriter include so much more than simply writing great copy. Copywriters need to be able to come up with ideas and find creative solutions to problems. These include wider business issues, marketing problems, and more.
Even SEO and digital copywriters need to be really creative. It’s one thing to have a brilliant piece of content filled with all of the keywords it needs and structured in the right way. But a title that contains the keywords you need it to, while adding thought leadership to a wider discussion that shows off your expertise is far more important.
It’s hard to find qualifications for creativity and ideas, so best practice is to set your candidates a problem and see the creative solutions they come up with.
Research is a huge part of what copywriters do. Becoming experts in just a few days means excellent research skills are a biggie.
Qualifications for research:
There are many qualifications that will show you how brilliant someone’s research skills are, including:
- Journalism – some of our best writers are journalists, and their rigorous research skills make their content tip-top. There are, of course, plenty of journalism courses. It’s important to note that not every journalist can switch to copywriting.
- Academia – anyone who’s achieved a brilliant result at Masters or PhD level is usually an absolutely brilliant researcher. Again, the skills don’t always transfer to brand copywriting and content.
- Analyst/researcher/scientist – all of these roles require in-depth knowledge of research skills and are usually fairly easy to transfer to a copywriting role.
Practical tests for research skills:
Ask the writer to create content on a topic that’s relatively unknown to them, but familiar to you. Then simply read the piece to test if you think it contains enough relevant details, is factually correct, and tells you everything you think your target audience would like to know.
What do you need your copywriter to actually do? For example, do you need a digital copywriter who’s going to help drive traffic to your site? Even if you have an SEO team, some working knowledge of SEO is a valuable copywriting skill to look for if the person you hire is going to be working on website content.
It means your writer can add keywords to their content in the right places, understand how to structure their work, know what to look out for when researching, and understand how linking works.
Copywriter qualifications for SEO include:
On-the-job skills to look out for:
To check their understanding of SEO, you can ask a copywriting candidate for some data showing their work has improved page rankings and SEO traffic, or simply ask them some basic questions in an interview. If you have an SEO team, asking them to interview your top candidates for a few minutes is a great way to test their understanding.
Conducting interviews is a big part of creating copy that incorporates in-house expertise or thought leadership in a particular industry.
The skills needed to be a brilliant interviewer include:
- Listening openly
- Asking the right questions
- Sitting in silence without discomfort
- Getting on with a wide range of people
- Being comfortable not knowing the answer to everything
- Not worrying about asking stupid questions
- Emotional intelligence, specifically recognising when someone’s getting uncomfortable or may need more time to think
Most of the time, you’ll be able to spot these skills and abilities during a short chat.
Editing and proofreading
Copywriters should never edit their own work. So it’s important that any writers in your team are able to edit and proofread each other’s work.
A self-edit is always important before any work is sent to an editor/proofreader as well.
If you don’t have the budget to hire an editor or second copywriter and there isn’t anyone in the business who can edit content, we suggest leaving the copy for as long as possible before coming back to edit it.
Again, formal qualifications aren’t necessary, but there are a few to watch out for.
Qualifications for editing and proofreading:
- The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) accreditations
- College of Media and Publishing Proofreading and Editing certifications
For practical editing and proofreading tests:
Ask a copywriter to edit a piece of writing, then compare the original and updated version. Ask them to look out for:
- Spelling and grammar
- Tone of voice issues
- Obvious research and fact-checking issues
- Also ask them to go above and beyond and let you know if they think the structure, arrangement, wording, and anything else could be updated
Sub-editing isn’t a skill every copywriter necessarily needs, but it is often a large part of what a copywriter does.
Although usually associated with newspapers, in the copywriting world sub-editing is checking, editing, and refining something which has already been written. It often includes rearranging the whole piece of work, adding useful information, rewriting sections, checking the layout and design of both words and images, as well as editing activities like checking for spelling and grammar, and tone of voice.
Editing (or copy editing) is correcting errors in spelling and grammar, inaccuracies in research, facts, and the copy, and refining the work until it is completely ready for its intended audience.
Sub-editing qualifications include:
Practical sub-editing tests:
To check a writer’s sub-editing skills, you need to create a similar test to the editing one above, but this time invite them to go beyond the call of duty. Ask them to take the piece apart to make it the best piece of writing it can be.
When you receive the test back, you’re looking for:
- A natural flow from start to finish
- Brilliant headlines that are catchy and descriptive
- Signs that the layout and design of both words and images have been considered (even if they aren’t able to move these around)
- Well-written paragraphs – each pulling its own weight within the piece of work
- Correct tone of voice
- Correct spelling and grammar
What are copywriting skills?
We’ve already delved into a few of the most vital copywriting skills above, including:
- Editing and proofreading
But there are a few more that are critical to success, including:
The ability to take on feedback
Being able to accept feedback, use it productively, and not take it to heart is a really important part of the copywriter role. And staying positive and friendly during the process is vital.
Empathy – being able to hop into someone’s shoes
Copywriters need to understand what their target audience wants, the problems they need help with, who they are, how they think, what they already know, and lots of other information. And they need to take all of this on board pretty quickly.
Knowledge of User Experience
The user journey while reading the piece, where they’ve come from, and where you want them to go after reading all fall under the User Experience (UX) umbrella.
A wide vocabulary
Unusual words are sometimes just the right fit for a headline or sentence. A wide vocabulary leads to more attention-grabbing copy and descriptions that are easy to understand. Just don’t go overboard – a great copywriter pairs this skill with hopping into someone else’s shoes and making sure that person would understand the piece.
Curiosity definitely didn’t kill the copywriter. In fact, it made them better and better. The more examples, ideas, relevant information, and interesting facts a copywriter can bring into their work, the better.
Experience boiling a complex topic down into something gripping
Taking complex topics – from technical details to a subject with differing opinions – and distilling them down into something readable, useful, and share-worthy is a brilliant copywriter skill.
All marketing should be driven by data – and as much of it as you can get your hands on. An ability to interpret that data and be creative with it is an essential copywriting skill. What’s working, what isn’t working, what’s working for other people/competitors/industries, what could work for us and our audience? All essential questions to ask before and after writing and publishing a piece of work.
An understanding of the bigger marketing picture
The ability to be an SEO marketer, PPC marketer, designer, strategist, or analyst, isn’t necessary to being a copywriter. But understanding a little about all of these disciplines, and how copy fits into all of them, is. The best copywriters are T-shaped marketers – they have a broad knowledge of several marketing disciplines and deep knowledge in one.
The ability to solve problems creatively is often an overlooked copywriter skill. Knowing how to jazz up an SEO headline, squeeze a bit of humour into highly technical content, or write a brilliant CTA that works just right are all problems writers face most days.
This isn’t necessary for every copywriter, but an understanding of how to upload copy to social media, websites, and other software may be useful.
Every writer needs to be able to communicate why their work is important, how they chose a particular title or piece of work, and how it’s useful for the business. They’re also likely to have lots of different projects thrown at them, so being able to communicate what can be completed, when and why is important.
It’s likely that a copywriter will work across many clients or teams, so being able to prioritise workloads, manage their time, and manage other people’s expectations is an essential skill.
What goes into the perfect copywriter job description?
Job descriptions are great. But at Proof Content we like to think of them as job ads. Just as you hook a potential customer with a great ad, you need to hook a brilliant copywriter with a brilliant job ad.
Here are some of the essentials to add to your copywriter job description. These tips will help to turn it into a job ad that sells your business to your next dream team member:
- A job title people are likely to be searching for (hint: don’t make it too broad, or you’re likely to get someone who’s pretty good at everything, rather than a great copywriter)
- Some personality – your copywriter job description needs to sound like your company to attract the right people
- The boring but useful stuff (salary, location, hours). And if you’re flexible on working hours and locations make sure you add it here – it’s a big bonus
- A couple of paragraphs about you – make sure these align with your values. Are you fast-paced and fast-growing? Are you friendly? Are you diverse and inclusive? What do your team love about working for you?
- Key requirements they’ll need. This is where you need to really think about the skills of a copywriter you’d like to employ, e.g.
- Years of experience
- If deadlines, people management, or a fast-paced environment are factors, make sure you mention them
- Creativity/analytical levels
- Experience in any particular sectors
- A portfolio of work (specify what you need to see)
- Their responsibilities – it’s important for your new copywriter to understand exactly what they’re taking on and what will be expected of them
- Benefits and bonuses
We’ve recently added some optional extras that took our copywriter job ads to the next level:
- What a day in the life of a copywriter at Proof Content looks like
- What they will achieve in the next 12 months – this is an especially useful way of capturing ambitious candidates who want to help you take the business to the next level
So, what does a copywriter do, anyway?
A copywriter is an essential ingredient for almost any business. They can bring your product or service to life, sell water to a cactus, and bring in lots of lovely SEO traffic. They can create a conversation with your customers and get across the values and benefits of what you do.
What does a copywriter do? They bring your brand’s personality to life, and help you achieve your goals, whether it’s:
- Authority in your industry
- Inbound links and domain authority
- The best talent
- Personal branding
- Or thought leadership
Looking to hire a copywriter who can make your brand sing? Let’s chat.