One month in of my journey as a full-time copywriter I headed over to an early morning networking event in town. Bleary-eyed and desperate for my first cup of coffee I blundered over to the breakfast table.
I accidentally made eye contact with someone.
Here we go.
We chatted about frisbee and how much we love our dogs while we drowned our respective coffees. Eventually, we got to the “what do you do” question. I said, “I’m a freelance copywriter!”
Their eyes literally bugged out of their sockets.
“A copyrighter! That’s awesome! So, I put on this event and someone literally stole it from me. They copy and pasted all of my content. Can we talk further? I need your help.”
Every copywriter has been in this situation, the confusing of copyright with copywrite. Homonyms be damned!
I do not work with copyrighting. I don’t do any legal stuff apart from contracts and taxes for my own business.
I don’t help my clients put that sexy © in their marketing collateral.
So what the heck do I do?
Ah, so glad you asked, gentle reader.
What is copywriting
Words that sell
In a very capitalistic phrase, this pretty much sums up my profession. I write words that move people to action. I don’t write social media posts (unless they are paid ads). I don’t write blog content (unless they are actively selling a product).
In short, copywriting is writing for a conversion. Every word and every phrase has a purpose to move people through the 5 stages of awareness to eventually convert, whatever conversion looks like for you.
Back in 1996, Eugene Schwartz categorized awareness levels of customers into 5 phases in his book Breakthrough Advertising.
Most Aware- Just give them a deal or make it easy for them to pay you.
Product-Aware- Your product is the solution.
Solution-Aware- Eureka! There is a solution!
Problem-Aware- Something is bothering them but they don’t know how to solve it.
Completely Unaware - Have no idea there even is a problem to be solved.
Copywriters work intimately with these 5 stages. Consequently, this is why writing website homepages are so damn tricky. You have to write to all 5 of 'em. That’s a lot of different pain points and ideas to capture in just a few lines.
Ok, so that's what we write. But I still haven't answer who we are.
Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers coined the phrase “conversion copywriter” a few years ago and it really struck home to home.
I’ll just leave it at that.
That definition above is what copywriting, at least the copywriting I do, is.
So how do we find those magical words that sell?
It’s not magic, it’s research
Well, we certainly don’t wave a magic wand or throw pasta against a wall to see what sticks.
Conversion copywriters do a TON of research.
That research could include:
Data mining- website, sales funnels, etc
I’m not a writer who sits down at a computer, cracks my knuckles, and writes a high converting sales page in one day. The best copywriters out there spend most of their time in the research phase.
Honestly, what I do and how I do it is 65% research, 15% writing, and 20% editing.
Why is all this research important?
If my goal is to write words that sell I need to know who I am selling to, how sales have gone in the past, and what customers are saying about the product.
Some of the best copy I’ve ever written was inspired or lifted from customer interviews.
One of my clients is a personal coach.
I got on the phone with 10 of his clients and in one call a woman literally wrote almost an entire email for me. She had the perfect analogy to help me understand the benefits and pain points of the product. It was incredible.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m just a dirty word thief.
A big part of my job is taking all that research and data and putting it into a hierarchy and framework within the overall selling strategy of the business.
What a perfect segue into my next point.
Words AND design
I’m not a graphic designer. All I can draw are very detailed stick figures.
What I mean by design here is that I don’t just hand over a jam-packed Google Doc full of sweet words.
A secondary purpose of all that research I do is figuring out layout and user experience on the page or email.
I can’t just write my words in a silo. I have to think about user experience, flow, scrolling, layout, and how eyeballs move down a page.
In essence, I am a master wireframer.
There is a reason why there are so many short one sentence lines in my blog posts. Shorter sections are easier for the eyes to skim read. People don’t have time to read 2,000 words of my ruminations that are jammed into a few paragraphs. It looks overwhelming.
Little lines make it more digestible I want people to read through to the end.
I take this same strategy and translate it into my client work. Wireframing the copy not only helps clients visualize how the copy will work, it helps me see how my words interact with the design.
Copywriting should be a collaboration between the graphic designers and the writers. Both understand design coming from different angles, but both have the same goal: convert.
I had a client who wanted a minimalistic straight and to the point website. Brilliant. I can do that.
I conducted my research, did all my due diligence, wrote a badass website, and uploaded it into a wireframe.
While the amount of copy was minimal, the layout of the page allowed for scrolling and for how readers naturally digest content. It was designed for a great user experience and to really show off his highly visual work. All the boxes were checked.
The client decided it was too long so he rewrote it. Completely. Now I could go on and on about this, but I’ll save it for another blog post. Ultimately it’s his website and there’s nothing I can do about it.
He saw the longer layout and was worried about it getting too wordy, even though his rewrite was an essay style block of text. To a user on their phone that would just look like a wall of text.
Be honest: would you read that?
This is why I’m really highlighting this key element of copywriting.
We design with our words. From our expertise, research, and insights we understand where and how our words should interact on the page.
We know what we’re doing.
Editing. A boatload of editing.
Did you think it was weird that when I gave the percentages of what my job is, the writing was actually the smallest piece of the pie?
This comes from how I approach writing.
To me, writing is your first draft. Everything else is editing.
My first drafts are ALWAYS terrible.
They are awkward, poorly constructed, with strange sentence structure, and have too many analogies.
“Write drunk, edit sober.”
Someone wise somewhere once said this, and while I don’t down a bottle of wine before writing a website I take the spirit of this quote. Using my research as my backbone I allow myself to write terrible just for the sake of getting something on the page.
From there I put my work through my bajillion steps of editing. This is where my nerdy love of spreadsheets really comes through.
Here’s a little sneak peek behind the scenes:
After all this exhaustive editing and wireframing it’s finally time to present the work to the client.
There it is: my process narrowed down into 3 major phases: Research, Writing, Editing.
That is conversion copywriting- words that are data-driven and conversion-focused.
Got any questions or disagreements? Hit me up in the comments below.