Who are the unsung heroes of digital marketing? Copywriters, of course! Crafting every word of an effective digital marketing campaign—whether it’s a social media ad, video content, website product pages, or anything in between—it’s the copywriter’s job to produce copy that pops and ultimately converts visitors into paying customers.
But what does a copywriter do, actually? In this article, we’ll explore everything from the basic definition of copywriting to a typical copywriter’s tasks and responsibilities. We’ll also dig into the skills copywriters need and opportunities for career progression.
Read on, or use the clickable menu to jump to the topic of your choice:
- What is copywriting?
- What does a copywriter do?
- What skills do you need to work in copywriting?
- Are copywriters in demand?
- How to become a copywriter (a step-by-step guide)
Ready to find out more? Then without further ado, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of copywriting!
1. What is copywriting?
Copywriting is the art of using persuasive words and phrases to generate interest and action in a reader. It’s about crafting memorable messages that grab people’s attention and appropriately target specific audiences and their needs.
Naturally, being a successful copywriter means being good with words. But this skill alone isn’t enough. Since copywriters need to understand how to create persuasive messaging, this means getting under the skin of what an audience wants to see. And in many ways, this makes the role as much about psychology as about having a flair for words.
Finally, because copywriters tend to write about many different subjects and for numerous audiences, they must also be excellent researchers with an excellent ability to assimilate new information.
While copywriting is an essential skill for digital marketing, it has been used in marketing more broadly for years. From ad campaigns to flyers, brochures, billboards, and much more—copywriting is one of the most versatile marketing skills you can have and it plays an invaluable role in the success of a business.
Copywriting vs. content writing
At this point, it’s worth noting a difference between what we’ve just described—copywriting—and another term you’ll often see: content writing. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but their aims are different.
As we’ve described, copywriting involves producing persuasive pieces that encourage people to take a particular action, for instance, to buy a product, sign up for a service, etc. As such, copywriting—in the traditional marketing sense—tends to be punchier and more focused on direct sales.
Meanwhile, content writing (while it falls under the umbrella of copywriting) tends to be longer form and more educational. It’s usually intended to provide information or entertainment rather than to persuade or sell. It can certainly be used as a form of soft-selling but that’s not its primary goal. More often, it’s used to develop a brand’s image or serve other marketing purposes, such as supporting a company’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
In essence, both content and copy are types of copywriting. However, these subtle differences matter when you’re working on a multichannel digital marketing campaign.
Next, let’s answer the titular question: What does a copywriter do?
2. What does a copywriter do?
As we’ve established, copywriters create written material that promotes products, services, or ideas. They aim to capture attention, engage an audience and drive them toward a goal.
However, their responsibilities go far beyond writing. Good copy doesn’t appear out of thin air and going from an idea to a successful campaign is quite an involved process.
For starters, copywriters need a deep understanding of whatever they’re promoting. Ideally, they also need to be involved with a campaign from conception to delivery.
Activities that copywriters might undertake include:
- Ideas generation: Joining concept meetings to come up with creative ideas, usually supporting a wider team of marketers, graphic designers, and so on.
- Research: Collecting relevant information to improve their knowledge of the product or service, using actions such as customer insights or competitor analysis.
- Interviewing: Copywriters often need to interview subject matter experts to inform their work. Sometimes, they might also ghostwrite articles under someone else’s name, interviewing the person first to capture their thoughts.
- Assimilating briefs: Copywriters must be able to interpret creative briefs from other team members, such as the marketing manager. If information is missing (which is not unheard of!) they need to know what additional information to ask for.
- Writing briefs for others: Copywriters also need to create or contribute to briefs for other team members. This might be for graphic designers laying out the copy, or video production teams translating the words into moving images. Copywriters need some basic understanding of how these different roles work.
- Writing: The main responsibility! A copywriter’s primary aim is to craft original copy. It could be for any number of channels, from social media to press releases, digital brochures, articles, blogs, reports, or other purposes.
- Editing and proofreading: Copywriters aren’t just good at pumping out copy—they often need to proofread or edit their own and others’ material, which is quite a different skill. This helps ensure copy is accurate and up to date, free from spelling and grammar errors, and that it adheres to a brand’s style guide.
- Tone of voice guidelines: Copywriters often have to develop tone of voice guidelines. These are a set of writing rules that help other members of their organization (who may not be natural writers or even digital marketers) to keep their public-facing communications consistent.
- Testing and analysis: Copywriters might be involved with testing out different versions of their copy, and analyzing the results to see which performs best. This is known as A/B testing.
As you can see, copywriting isn’t just about words. Far from it, in fact! This diverse role is one of the most fascinating and varied digital marketing roles you can find. No two days as a copywriter are ever really the same.
3. What skills do you need to work in copywriting?
Understandably, excellent writing abilities are an absolute must-have. You’ll likely have a natural flair for working with words. Beyond that, here are some of the skills—besides excellent copywriting and editing—that you’ll need to cultivate as a copywriter:
- An interest in, and knowledge of, the latest trends in digital marketing
- Understanding the need for different types of copy for different mediums (SEO copy and social media copy, for instance, will be very different, even if tackling similar subject matters)
- The ability to write in a variety of styles and for different audiences
- Ability to quickly assimilate different style guides while maintaining a strong understanding of underlying grammar/punctuation rules
- An eye for detail (we know all job descriptions say this, but it’s absolutely essential for copywriting, where the tiniest mistake can be your undoing)
- Knowledge of SEO and best practice in this area
- Ability to juggle multiple projects while adhering to deadlines and taking into account budgetary concerns
- Proficiency using the Microsoft Office Suite and, optionally, the Adobe Creative Suite
- Some basic coding knowledge (such as HTML) can be beneficial, although is not always necessary
- Understanding of the principles of content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Wix (although there are many more)
Above all, copywriters must be creative and capable of thinking outside the box. They rarely have the luxury of getting things wrong. With such a public-facing role, messaging has to be perfectly honed and bang on brand every time. And in a time-pressured environment, this is no mean feat! However, with practice, it is a potent skill set that will set you up with transferable skills that you can use no matter where your career takes you in the future.
4. Are copywriters in demand?
So the big question: are digital marketing copywriters really in demand? In short, absolutely!
There has always been a need for those who can manipulate the written word. From the earliest newspaper headline writers to the 1960s golden age of advertising (we’re thinking Mad Men here), good writers are consistently in demand.
While digital marketing was a new concept 20 years ago, the rise of the ‘always-on’ consumer means copywriters have easily transitioned into this field and are thriving here. By its nature, digital marketing is fast-moving, meaning there is always a call for high-quality, present-relevant copy from trusted writers.
Meanwhile, copywriters remain in demand in traditional marketing, print media, and other industries, too, from publishing and advertising to sectors, like education and the sciences. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around 142,800 writers in the U.S. alone.
While not all of these are digital marketing copywriters, a significant chunk are. Perhaps most importantly, this figure is projected to grow by 4% by 2031. The boom isn’t limited to the U.S., either. Similar growth is expected elsewhere.
Today, copywriting is a skill that applies to many roles. And while non-written mediums like video, audio, and podcasts are on the rise, they still need copywriters to produce scripts and other content. In short, as the digital landscape evolves, so will the role of the copywriter. But it’s hard to imagine a situation where they’ll ever not be in demand.
5. How to become a copywriter
Getting into copywriting is a great way to break into digital marketing and other creative industries. It’s also easier than you might think to get started.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to becoming a copywriter.
Step 1: Get educated
Copywriting isn’t a role that usually requires formal education, so don’t worry if you don’t have a degree. However, an education can help when applying for a full-time role. A formal qualification in the right subject can show employers that you’re a confident writer.
If you’re looking to jump in as a freelancer, you might have to show your skills and knowledge another way. This might mean taking a course or otherwise demonstrating that you know about the digital marketing techniques most relevant to copywriting, such as SEO and content strategy. If you’re new to the field, consider a specific copywriting course to get to grips with these basics. Be aware, though, most clients or employers are more interested in seeing written evidence of your work, rather than a qualification.
If you work in another role already, a great way to learn about copywriting is to take on more responsibilities in this area. Volunteer to write reports, articles, or presentations, for example. Education doesn’t always have to be formal. The best way to learn is through practice!
Step 2: Build your portfolio
As you might suspect from the previous step, a strong portfolio is your key to success as a copywriter. This should be a collection of your best work and something to showcase your skills with, proving you’re the right person for the job.
Ideally, you’ll have a portfolio offering different pieces, from press releases to blog posts, brochure copy, op-eds, and articles. It’s also important to include examples of work that show you can write for different audiences, so have some B2B and B2C examples ready to go if you can.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate some SEO copy—many copywriters start as content writers or in SEO, before gradually specializing and honing their portfolio in a particular direction. There’s nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades, though! As a copywriter, it comes with the territory.
Step 3: Connect with other copywriters
In the world of marketing, networking is key. Making sure you’re connected to the right people in the industry will help you make the most of job openings or freelance contracts. While you don’t want to send spam emails to strangers, you can look for contacts on websites like LinkedIn. Seek out those with job titles such as Head of Copy (usually working within digital marketing agencies) Digital Marketing Manager, or Senior Content Editor. If it seems appropriate, reach out and see if they’re happy to connect.
You should also join relevant industry groups and forums and perhaps attend some digital marketing networking events or conferences in your area. Here are a few industry groups and events to bookmark. Many of the associations here also include job opportunities and the chance to upload a profile so potential employers can find you:
- American Copy Editors Society Conferences (USA)
- The Copywriting Conference (UK)
- National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (US)
- Professional Copywriters Network (UK)
- Content Marketing World Conference & Expo (UK)
- Content Marketing Institute (UK)
These are just a few of many associations and conferences available in English-speaking countries, but it offers a taste. Try finding a group in your local area so you can tap into regional job opportunities.
Step 4: Apply for jobs
Once you’ve got a portfolio and some contacts, it’s time to put yourself out there. Tailor your applications to the individual position, and don’t forget to invest time in your resume and cover letter. While a good portfolio is one of the most effective tools for helping you land a job, it would be a waste to then fall on the other aspects of your application.
Step 5: Watch out for common pitfalls
Whether you’re seeking a full-time copywriting job or choosing the freelance route, there are a few things to keep an eye out for content farms, bidding sites, and copywriting tests.
A content farm is where an agency offers work for a meager fee. This could be as low as $5 for writing a whole blog post, for example. Bidding sites—where you have to submit competitive proposals to win work against other copywriters—similarly tend to offer poor pay, largely because they take a significant cut of what you might earn if you win. Finally, copywriting tests are where a business asks you to complete a test piece of copy, with no payment for your time or effort, and no guarantee of a job at the end.
While you might decide you are happy to engage with these tactics, especially when securing your first job, these types of opportunities are usually quite exploitative and should be avoided where possible.
As a side note, when setting your rates (if you’re going down the freelance route) this page on the UK Copywriters Network nicely explains why you should be cautious of per-word payment. It’s written with the UK in mind but is applicable anywhere.
While practices such as content farms and copy tests are increasingly rare, they’re still common enough to warrant a mention. Beyond that, though, you should aim to have fun! Becoming a copywriter can be a highly rewarding, creative, and enjoyable role. Make the most of it!
If you’re creative, organized, have an eye for detail, and are great with words, then copywriting could be a great career option for you. It takes dedication and plenty of hard work to succeed, but it can be done.
If you feel copywriting is the right fit for you, the next step is getting started. Learn the basics, refine your writing skills, and start building a portfolio. You can also reach out to copywriting agencies and other professionals to get some initial experience. Finally, always stay on top of the latest trends and technologies in the field.
Ready to learn more about a possible career in digital marketing? Then why not try our free 5-day marketing short course? It’s completely free. You might also want to check out the following introductory guides: