If you’ve spent any time trying to find a good copywriter — either for an in-house role or freelance — you’ve probably seen that the pool of talent isn’t too deep. Sure, it’s easy to find someone who can string words together and may even have the title of “copywriter.” However, finding someone who can take on different brand voices, connect with audiences, translate complex information into digestible bites, and do it all with a bit of style is not an easy task.
Good writers aren’t necessarily good copywriters
First off, all copywriters are writers, but not all writers are copywriters. That little turn of phrase isn’t just to be clever. You should always keep in mind that brilliant writers can be terrible copywriters.
What we think of as traditional writers write for themselves. They are focused on translating their thoughts into a string of words that will successfully communicate their ideas to an audience. When it comes to copywriting, the main message or thought is coming from the product or brand. There should be a creative spin on it, but the fundamental source of the idea is the product or brand they’re working for. That shift is essential. And it can be hard.
Good copywriters have to put their ego in check much more than a traditional writer. Instead of starting with what they want to say, a copywriter has to start with what the client wants to say and what the audience needs to hear.
Short takeaway: if you interview someone for a copywriting role and they insist on being called a writer, be wary. You want a talented person who will represent your company and clients well, not someone who will generate well-crafted sentences disconnected from brand and/or audience.
Good copywriters have to write with a personality disorder.
Another challenge that good copywriters face on a daily basis is being able to bounce between different styles and voices — sometimes several times in a single day, or hour. It’s possible that you have a single brand that will occupy 100% of a copywriter’s time. That’s a rare luxury. Multiple clients is the norm, and that usually comes with different brand personalities and different audiences.
A good copywriter needs to be able to get into the heads of the target customers to understand what resonates with them, while at the same time capturing the subtle nuances that give the brand a distinct voice. This can involve using appropriate slang terms, or making references that reflect the brand values, or structuring sentences a certain way. It’s never just about what is said — how it’s said is what gives the brand its personality and allows it to be recognizable. If a copywriter is working on 10 different brands, a good copywriter will have 10 different voices they can use, as needed.
Short takeaway: Be sure to check the range a copywriter has. The good ones will be able to show examples that sound as if they’ve been written from different people with different styles.
Good copywriters get to the point quickly.
Being concise is essential. Most people simply don’t like to read. It might hurt those of us who have spent years honing this craft, but it’s true. That’s why a good copywriter has to be able to convey ideas in as few words as possible.
Can it still be fun? Youbetchabunsitcan.
Is this always true? Yes.
What if I find someone who is really good at long copy but just struggles a little with cutting things down, but they show real promise, and blah blah blah. Just stop.
Short takeaway: If someone can’t be concise, don’t hire them.
Good copywriters will know your clients’ industries inside and out
When a good copywriter has spent a fair amount of time on a client, you can bet that they will know the details of that brand, the products, and the industry as good as anyone else on the team. Part of knowing what to say is knowing what can be left out. A sign of an unformed (maybe even bad) copywriter is when they throw all the details in all the time. When someone really knows an audience, they understand what that audience needs to know and what they already know.
This also means a good copywriter needs to be curious. If you run into one who shows no desire to dig deeper than a superficial lay of the land, chances are the writing isn’t going to go past the surface either.
Short takeaway: Look for curiosity and an ability to retain a lot of information.
Good copywriters are hard to find right out of school
For reasons that I don’t know or understand, few schools with advertising programs devote much time to developing copywriters. Yes, there are classes here and there, but it’s nothing compared to the rigorous paths design students take with semesters dedicated to nuances they’re going to face in their future profession. Copywriting might get one course or, more often, get included in a class covering several skills related to advertising.
The best way to develop a good copywriter is to have them learn from another one. This doesn’t mean you need to have two at a time. With the myriad resources available online, there are excellent copywriters offering up their advice and wisdom. Plus, you work with other agencies or skilled freelancers to develop a mentoring program for your green but soon-to-be-great copywriter.
Short takeaway: Either find someone with experience or provide access to experienced copywriters for those who aren’t.
Good content isn’t enough
SEO is big. Huge. Extremely important. And it demands more in terms of keyword awareness than style from a copywriter. Which means you can get away with having a so-so copywriter and still have solid content, meta descriptions, H1s, and all the things that will help you show up better in search results.
If you’re building a brand, content isn’t enough. You still need to have a voice that can help turn that one-time visitor into a loyal customer. That includes how you describe your products, the messages you put in the shipping box, the way you post on social, the thank you email they get after purchase, etc. That’s a conversation that will help keep the connection going between you and your customers.
Short takeaway: Good content writing brings people to you, good copywriting helps them become loyal customers.