Everyone’s a copywriter

May 13, 2022

Listen instead

“Everyone’s a copywriter.”

It felt like everyone who passed their version of high school English, with access to a computer and a word processor, thought they could write website copy.

When I first began to work in a digital agency, this was the default. Clients rarely - if ever - paid for copywriting services. They would have someone on their team provide the words.

One day. Eventually. Probably.

  • It was always delayed. Because it was scary and unfamiliar, and not part of their day job, it (understandably) fell to the bottom of their to-do list.
  • It was often incomplete. Because once they started they realised that it was actually much harder than they first thought.
  • It usually caused scope creep. Because fixing, adjusting, and reorganising provided content takes time that is rarely allocated in a project budget.

Long story short: it’s hard to convince people that they need to invest in content, especially copy.

And that doesn’t have to be an investment in a service provider if you’re a copy DIY’er. But it does include investment in time and energy, not just to write, but to approach the writing with some form of strategic thinking.

But more on that later…

This resistance to investment is why most copywriters are very good at clean up jobs.

Just building on what we already have.

Just tidying up the About page someone whipped up in-house.

Just filling in the gaps.

Lots of justs, justifying why this work shouldn’t cost a lot, or take much time.

The thing is, copywriting isn’t just about putting words in order on a page. And, there’s more than one approach to the job.

A very quick - and not very nuanced - take on copy skills

Let’s consider copywriting through to content design or content strategy as a continuum.

Not all content designers were once copywriters (although a lot of them were journalists) and not every copywriter will move into a more strategic role.

(and not all content is copy…but let’s park that for today)

But like a little baby pokemon, as a fresh copywriter works on more web projects (assuming they’re curious and interested in the mechanics of websites) it’s likely that they’ll evolve to work in a more strategic way.

They’ll experience some of the frustrations that I explained earlier, and seek out ways of working to overcome them.

They might not ever go full Charizard and shift careers, but they’ll draw on those skills to Charmeleon their way through their work.

Whether you’re looking to hire in extra help, or are seeking ways to improve the copywriting you do in your own business, a key feature of this evolution is the way they think about and approach the writing process.

So here’s my evolution story

Charmander phase. Comes out of uni with a writing degree, assumes putting words in order is a similar process regardless of the medium or message. Brochures, websites, emails - as a writer, I can write them all.

Charmeleon phase. Learns more about how to write for different formats, specifically websites. Loves being clever. This is good, because I work in content marketing, and often the role of copywriting in marketing is to draw attention to itself.

It’s about volume - both decibels and amount. And I can do both.

Charizard phase. Realises that sometimes, copy needs to whisper, rather than shout. Learns that in places like your website or other digital products you need words (and other content) to be entirely unobtrusive. Considers the entire user experience and broader content strategy.

There has been a massive mindset shift between my old ‘every word should be a star’ approach, and today.

Mainly, I’ve learnt when and how to write in a way that is reflective of the users’ needs, so that the words seamlessly blend into the overall experience.

I’ve had to give up the idea that everyone will read my copy, and think about how clever it is.

Because I don’t actually want them to think at all.

I just want them to absorb, and then act.

I want it to feel easy.

And I want it to reflect them and their experiences, the words they use, and how they feel in that moment.

What I’ve learnt is a new approach to writing copy: all the things that happen before I start to arrange the words on the page.

Where content or marketing copywriter Sarah would take in (a brief) then push out (the content), content designer Sarah will pull in (through research, interviews, and other exercises) and then create.

I invite you to think: what approach are you taking to content? What do you think about before you create (more on that next week), and how is that reflected in the process you take (either by yourself or with creative partners)?

Keep reading

Stretch your vocabulary (but not in the way you’d expect)

Knowing what works on your website

6 principles for "good" content