Copywriting is always a bit confusing for people when they first hear about it.
“Is it like, getting a copyright?”
I’ve been copywriting for eight years, and my family still doesn’t have a clue what I do.
Let’s pretend I didn’t write this solely to have something to link them to when they ask me for the 10th time.
If you recently heard someone mention that they do “copywriting” for a living, and you thought, “
Wtf What is copywriting?” this is the guide for you.
I’ll explain what copywriting is and why it’s such a big deal (the biggest industry you didn’t know existed).
Plus, I’ll even teach you the fundamentals (it’s a lot easier than it sounds).
What Is Copywriting? The Simplest Copywriting Definition
The simplest copywriting definition is this:
Copywriting is the process of writing words intended to prompt a specific action by the reader.
Copywriting is always connected to the act of promoting or selling a business, organization, brand, product, or service, which makes it, by definition, a form of marketing.
Here’s how a few other sources define copywriting:
“Copywriting is the art and science of strategically delivering words (whether written or spoken) that get people to take some form of action.” – Copyblogger
“Copywriting is the process of writing advertising promotional materials. Copywriters are responsible for the text on brochures, billboards, websites, emails, advertisements, catalogs, and more. Unlike news or editorial writing, copywriting is all about getting the reader to take action.” – AWAI
“Copywriting consists of the words, either written or spoken, marketers use to try to get people to take an action after reading or hearing them.” – Hubspot
“Copywriting is the skill — and field of work — where people write sales promotions and other marketing materials for products, services, fundraising campaigns, etc. It’s the craft of writing persuasive messages that prompt people to take action (buy something, inquire about a service, download a free eBook, donate to a cause, etc.).” – The Balance Small Business
“Copywriting is the act or occupation of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing. The product, called copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action.” – Wikipedia
If you read through each copywriting definition, you’ll notice that same core statement is present in every single one.
Copywriting is writing designed to prompt action.
Copywriting can take a wide variety of forms:
- Blog posts
- Landing pages
- Video scripts
- Product descriptions
- Lead magnets
- White papers
- Etc, etc, etc
What makes it “copy” is that it’s intended to drive an action.
Sometimes, you want to drive an action immediately. This type of copywriting is referred to as “direct response copywriting”.
Examples of direct response copywriting include:
- A Twitter ad designed to get an ad click
- A billboard designed to make you turn at the next exit and visit the establishment
- A landing page designed to get an email signup
- An email designed to get a message in “reply”
- A product description designed to drive an “Add to Cart” click
Sometimes, immediate action isn’t the goal. The reader might not be in the position to take immediate action when they see your copy, or having them take immediate action might not be the priority. This type of copy doesn’t have a snappy name, but the concept of marketing now for results down the road is essentially branding.
Examples of branding-focused copywriting include:
- A magazine ad designed to expose readers to the brand
- A blog post designed to educate and connect with the reader
- A white paper designed to establish the brand’s authority
These types of copywriting want an action at some point:
- The magazine ad wants the reader to think about the brand and remember the brand when they are ready to buy down the road.
- The blog post wants the reader to share the blog post, signup for the brand’s email list, and/or buy from the brand at some point.
- The white paper wants the reader to purchase from the brand or refer a purchase down the road.
The difference is that this type of copywriting isn’t designed to drive an immediate action, and that’s important, because attempting to drive an immediate action is counterproductive in many marketing scenarios.
Imagine if every blog post you read tried to get you to buy something immediately. Imagine if every blog post was so focused on getting your email signup that it cut off the article’s key conclusion and made you signup to read it.
Both branding scenarios and direct response scenarios make up an important part of the marketing process.
Why Is Copywriting Such A Big Deal?
Copywriting as a service and career choice has exploded over the last few years.
And the reason for this is really simple.
Every single online business needs copywriting… and online business is BOOMING.
In the last 9 years, ecommerce has gone from 6.4% of total retail spend to 16.0%.
To put that in simple numbers, online spending went from $170 Billion in 2010 to $602 Billion in 2019.
That’s 250% growth.
And every cent of that relied on copywriting.
At some point in the future, technology will reach the point where writing isn’t required to do business.
Just like you can walk into a store, find the item you want, and then buy it, often without even reading the packaging, there will likely come a day in the distant future where you can make a purchase online without ever reading a word.
But today is not that day.
As of today, you literally cannot complete an online transaction without reading copy.
And the better that copy is, the more likely you are to make the purchase.
This is why copywriting is such a big deal.
It’s why copywriting is such a high-demand, high-income skill, as I explain in this Write Bites episode.
Most people struggle to communicate complex ideas through writing.
A lot of people struggle to even communicate simple ideas through writing.
When your revenue depends on how well you can communicate the value of your product or service in writing, it makes a lot of sense to hire someone who specializes in that type of writing.
So now that we understand why it’s such a big deal, let’s dive into what copywriting is all about.
The 4 Core Objectives Of Copywriting
For copywriting to get results, it needs to accomplish four key objectives.
These objectives are referred to as the AIDA framework:
Let’s dive into each one.
1. Capture The Reader’s Attention
You need attention to get the reader to begin engaging with your copy.
If you don’t have the reader’s attention, nothing else you do matters, which is why attention is the first objective of copywriting.
Imagine it’s April 27th and you are scrolling through a packed email inbox with 20 unread subject lines. Would you click on this?
[Limited Time Strategy] Send this EXACT pitch to every acquaintance you have BEFORE the end of April
For a lot of my email subscribers, including quite a few who don’t always click on my emails, the answer was “Yes”. This email got a nearly 50% open rate and qualified as the most opened email of the year.
2. Provoke The Reader’s Interest
You need interest in order to get the reader to engage with the full piece of copy after they’ve begun reading.
Just because they begin reading doesn’t mean they’ll continue reading. Interest is what keeps them engaged.
Think about how frustrated you are right now that I cropped this image… that you can’t look down and see who actually “paid for this shit”.
You’re so mad.
That’s what it means to provoke interest.
3. Harness The Reader’s Desires
While capturing attention and interest will get people to engage with your copy, engagement isn’t a goal unto itself.
Engagement is simply the pre-qualifier for people to read our copy. The real goal of the copy has to do with desire and action. First, we need to harness the reader’s existing desires and connect them to our product or service.
While this concept might trigger thoughts of magazine ads for diamonds and sport scars, in reality, harnessing desire is much simpler than that.
There’s nothing sexy about stains or the cleaning of stains.
But for thousands of housewives — at the time this ad was released — cleaning out stains was a daily challenge, and coming up with a better solution for cleaning those stains was a real, tangible desire.
4. Persuade The Reader To Take Action
The goal of copywriting is action.
You need to get capture attention. You need to provoke interest. You need to harness desire.
But ultimately, the only metric that matters is, “How many readers took action?”
How many people went out and sent the copy/paste pitch I gave them in my email?
How many people actually went out and purchased Seth & Riley’s Garage Hard Lemonade (I’m not a monster)?
How many people actually ordered Rinso?
This is all that matters for a copywriter. Do they act on your copy?
And great copywriting is written from beginning to end with action in mind.
The 10 Fundamentals Of Copywriting
As the final piece of this introduction to copywriting, I want to give you my ten fundamentals for writing copy.
But to be honest, you really only need the follow fundamentals to get started, and I’ve found over the years that simply getting better at the fundamentals is the most effective way to improve your copywriting.
1. Start every project by identifying the target audience.
Imagine being asked to give a speech but you aren’t told who the audience is. You picture a room of business owners and think through what is important to them, what sort of challenges they would resonate with, what they might find humorous, etc.
Then you show up to speak and your audience is a class of 5th graders from the local elementary school.
Your speech would absolutely bomb, because it’s aimed at the wrong audience.
Knowing who you are speaking to is the first thing you need to identify as a copywriter. It will determine every part of your copy: the challenges you focus on, the benefits you emphasize, the personality you incorporate, etc.
If you don’t identify the target audience, you’ve already failed.
2. Start every project by also identifying the copy’s objective.
Just like you need to understand who you are speaking to with your writing, you also need to understand what you are trying to accomplish by speaking to them.
What do you want the reader to do after they read this copy?
Copywriting is not a passive discipline with vague goals. It’s specific and intentional and designed to get results. What those intended results are needs to be clear before you write a word, or your copy won’t be effective.
3. The goal of every line of copy is to get the next line read.
The #1 purpose of a line of copy is to get the reader to continue to the next line. If the reader does not continue reading, the message you want to tell them doesn’t matter. The points you want to make are irrelevant. And you can forget about the action you want them to take.
Copywriting should take you longer word for word than writing a blog post, especially if you’ve been writing copy for less than 10 years. It’s not a natural process for most people to be intentional with every word, phrase, and sentence.
That said, don’t over-complicate this. Being intentional is not a particularly high bar. It just means that after you write a paragraph, look back through and ask, “Does this line move the narrative forward and motivate the reader to continue reading?” If not… change it.
4. Your customers’ needs and desires are the only thing that matters.
The main mistake that most non-copywriters make is focusing on their business, brand, or subject rather than the target audience.
When you think about your business, what you care about most probably makes no difference at all to your customers.
- In most cases, they don’t care about the income or lifestyle your business affords.
- In most cases, they don’t care about the unique technology that drives your business or how you developed it.
- In most cases, they don’t care about you or your business at all.
Like all people, they care about themselves and their own needs and desires, and your business is only of interest within the specific context of meeting those needs and desires.
Your copywriting should reflect that. Everything should connect to those needs and desires, and if a piece of the message isn’t relevant to those needs and desires, it should nearly always be eliminated.
5. Write like you are speaking to a friend.
There’s something funny that happens when people try to write copy for the first time. They get really stiff and formal, and they fill their writing with meaningless jargon and vague phrases.
Good copy reads a lot like a well-spoken person talking to a friend. It has a casual, straightforward tone and gets to the point without rushing itself. It’s not trying to fill space. It’s not trying to sound like anything.
After you write a segment of copy, read it out loud and see if you cringe. Or better yet, wait a day and have someone else read it back to you out loud. If it sounds like you’re playing business, think about the main points you want to make and then imagine you are just telling those to a friend.
6. The most important element of copy is clarity.
Most copywriters and marketers like to make a big deal about persuasion and how magical persuasive copy is, but the truth is that the most important element of good copywriting is clarity.
Product/market fit is what sells things. Getting people in front of something they want or need is what sells things. The goal of the copy is simply to make it very clear to those people that the product is a great match for what they already want or need.
There’s another side to copywriting that is focused on manipulation through fear and greed, and while it’s great for making a quick buck, it will never help you build a brand or a business that people return to time after time. If you are working with a great product that customers love, you don’t need persuasion, you need clarity. You need a clear, succinct message that shows the customer why the product fits their needs or desires.
7. Include the what, why, where, who and how.
Part of clarity is covering all the details. It can be easy to forget about key piece of info while trying to craft a narrative and account for other copywriting tips.
Make sure you identify all the information that needs to be delivered ahead of time:
- What is the offer?
- Why does it matter?
- Where is it being offered?
- Who is it being offered to?
- How does it work?
Then look back through and make sure you hit on all of this after you’ve finished.
8. Incorporate proof and take your writing from the proof.
Proof is the true magic in copywriting. Anyone can say, “I’ll do this for you.” But if you can follow that up with data, testimonials, examples, case studies, reviews, statistics, etc., that’s where you can really make your copy persuasive.
Even better, take your writing directly from the proof.
“Honestly, in this guide, you have put out more concrete actionable steps than over 90% of the experts have in their materials.”
That’s what one writer said about my writing guide, and it is so much better than anything I could say about my own product. It also gives me some really good phrases for my copy:
“Learn the concrete, actionable steps that both myself and hundreds of my students have used to hit six-figure freelance writing income.”
Incorporate the proof into your writing whenever possible, and take your writing directly from the proof whenever you can.
9. Speak to the emotions and motivations behind the decision.
You might have heard that you should “sell the sizzle” and “focus on the benefits”. Human beings very rarely make decisions from a purely analytical standpoint. We are an emotional species and our emotions heavily dictate our behavior.
As a copywriter, your job is to understand the emotions and motivations that your target audience is experiencing and then speak to those emotions and motivations. You want to connect the specifics of what you are offering to the underlying goal propelling the reader’s decision making.
This can be as simple as talking about the benefits or it can be as complex as resonating around life roadblocks and frustrating challenges. Either way, think about those emotions when writing copy.
10. If you can condense or simplify it, you usually should.
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” – Thomas Jefferson
You have a limited amount of space and time to communicate your value and capture your reader’s interest. If you can say it with less words, you usually should. If you can say it with simpler words, you usually should.
This is why literature majors usually make terrible copywriters at first. They have spent years trying to develop a writing style that is grammatically complex and uses a more extensive vocabulary. In copywriting, you want the opposite. You want to be as simple and succinct as possible.
Next Steps: Learn How To Build A Copywriting Business From Scratch
I hope you’ve found this introduction to copywriting helpful.
If you’d like to explore what it takes to build your own business as a freelance copywriter, I’ve put together a crash course to help you get up and running in the next 2 weeks.
I’m currently offering it for free, so if you’d like to take advantage of that, enter you email below, and I’ll send it your way: