Wikipedia tells you a copywriter “writes copy for the purpose of advertising or marketing”.
Correct … to an extent.
First, the word ‘copy’ refers to the text on a page.
And marketers often refer to the words of a page as ‘copy’ … with little thought to whether you know what it means or not.
The text you’re reading right now is ‘copy’, or ‘copywriting’.
More specifically, it’s landing page copy – written by me to keep you reading, all the way through, so you learn everything you need to know about what a copywriter is – in the simplest way possible.
You’re not going to get the one-line definition for copywriter here. So if that’s what you’re after, best jumping over to Wikipedia now.
Stick around, though, and you’re going to learn what most websites won’t tell you about copywriters. Plus, how there’s actually more than one type to watch out for …
What Every Marketer Should Know about Copywriting ‘Vendors’
Eric just launched his own ecommerce website, selling glue.
It’s a niche market, yes.
But Eric knows where to get quality glue for a low enough price that he can turn enough of a profit to be his own boss (and fly his family closer to the equator every summer).
He just needs his product page typing up.
And he’s got about £30 quid to spend.
For that amount, he could probably get three pages typed up by a freelance copywriting ‘vendor’ (I’ve nicked that term from pro copywriter John Carlton – more on him in a bit).
Vendors form the majority of copywriters out there.
They wait in the corridor for somebody like Eric, who comes to them with a fairly vague outline of what he wants.
They fill the blank page with coherent language about the product (glue), take their £10 fee and move onto the next job.
I’m not dissing these guys.
Most of them are obsessive writers – with a burning passion for the written word.
And the majority take huge pride in every line they craft.
For the rates they’re paid, these lads often agonise far too much over their work.
And it’s a rough gig …
To make a living from this, they need to grind out about 8-10 pages a day.
And there’s no guarantee of an Eric always being there … not to mention the amount of competition vendors are facing (and it’s growing, fast).
Vendors get the job done.
You ask. They write. You pay.
The nice ones wrap a guarantee around their work, meaning they rewrite for free if you’re not happy.
But at £10 a page, you’re probably being tight (unless the copy’s littered with grammatical errors, or sells ‘sniffing’ as a benefit of glue).
Use vendors at your own risk.
The majority are very competent writers, looking to supplement their more high profile work with ’odd jobs’.
Some are fraudsters – who take your work and farm it out to a network of other vendors for a cut.
And while we’re being honest, some aren’t native English speakers … not even fluent.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a pro copywriter in the making, slogging it out in the underground gyms until he’s good enough to trial for the Olympics.
This scrapper strives to deliver world class work. And even if it’s not quite ‘there’ … it’s much closer than what most other vendors can swing for you.
Should you stumble on a gem like this, hold onto him – and consider upping his pay after two months … before he moves onto bigger things.
I can’t emphasise the luck part of this situation enough.
True copywriters are rare animals.
Pros are almost protected by the Endangered Species Coalition.
In reality, if you’re hiring someone who claims to be a ‘copywriter’ at £10 a page, chances are you’re hiring a content writer.
What’s the difference between a copywriter and a content writer?
A copywriter is trained in the art of salesmanship.
She writes with a goal in mind.
And crafts every word on the page to influence the completion of that goal (which is usually to persuade a reader into doing something … which is usually a profitable action).
A content writer has a tremendous grasp of the English language. Can interpret your brief. And has excellent research skills, too.
It’s important to note that a copywriter also has these traits, by default.
— There’s another skill that both writers possess, related to search engine optimisation (SEO). You might know about it already. If not, there’s no need to go Google it, it’s covered in the next section. —
For Marketers Looking for Professional Copywriting Standards
If you could kill one person in your life, who would it be?
And how would you like the hit to be carried out?
Most people don’t really care about that second question.
As long as there’s no trace from the corpse back to you, it’s a good enough kill.
Doesn’t matter how it happens exactly.
So, you hire the most trustworthy hitman you can afford.
Most marketers, and time-strapped entrepreneurs, apply the same attitude when hiring a copywriter.
They don’t go for the cheapest gun on the market … but they also don’t try to recruit any ex-SAS, either.
The copy is gonna be written. And written well.
You know this from the writer’s testimonials, well-showcased portfolio and respectable fee.
Just hand over your brief and he’ll follow it, to the letter – injecting his own salesmanship skills into the copy along the way.
He’s a pro, after all, and he brings his own style to his work.
But there are two problems with hiring this middleweight assassin – starting with you …
Problem 1 – Your Skinny Brief
If you hire a pro copywriter for a reasonable fee, you better be prepared to let him do the work you’ve paid him to do.
There’s no point in letting him chainsaw the victim, only to turn up and explain how you’d have preferred a bit of strangulation.
Your goal is to get the person killed page written.
Your copywriter’s goal is to create it in a way that you want. But give him enough freedom, and he’ll create the page in a way he knows will WORK.
Question his version and you’re throwing money away … you might as well bloody your own hands by writing the page yourself.
If you do have any specific requests (tone of voice, murder methods, or whatever), just make sure they’re in your brief to start with.
Problem 2 – The Hidden Price of Affordable Copywriting
The pro copywriter brings a lot to the table:
- Excellent salesmanship
- Remarkable writing skills
- Rapid turnaround times
- Impeccable spelling
- A full understanding of SEO*
- Years of experience
- Full professional cooperation
- An understanding of empathy
You’re going to need to pay more than £50 for a landing page from this hired gun.
But get the brief right and he’ll give you what you want – exactly what you want. That’s the problem …
See, the majority of professional copywriters — and most of these work freelance or for relatively young marketing agencies — rely on your money for their entire LIVING.
You are far too important to them (or their employer) to piss off.
The easiest way for them to keep you happy is to provide precisely what you asked for in the brief … even if they know it’s not the best way to go.
Why waste time arguing with you over the phone about a headline?
Why risk getting so deep under your skin, that you rip their contract into shreds?
If you’re hiring a mid-level pro like this, the best advice is to step out of their way.
These writers have all the ability and experience you need – but they will YES MAN you all day if they have to … and it’s your landing page that swallows a bullet in the crossfire.
*Search engine optimisation (SEO) knowledge ought to come as standard with a modern professional copywriter. When they craft a piece for you to go online, they should know exactly how to structure the language in a way that humans and search engines can understand – so that piece can be found easily within Google.
Some non-professionals have the portfolio, the testimonials and the moderately expensive fee, to fool you into doing business with them.
When I say “step out of the professional’s way”, I mean it.
But if the work genuinely stinks, you’re within your rights to question the writer.
As a rule of thumb, read the copy as if it already exists on your main competitor’s website. And read it without personal opinion or ego.
If it still looks iffy, ask the writer to run through his thought process with you. Then make a call.
Beware: The One Copywriter You DON’T Want to Know … Unless You’re Serious
You’re not important. Not to John, anyway.
Whatever you’re thinking is useless.
And if you don’t know that yet, then you have no business sitting in the room with John in the first place.
John bases his copy on tried and tested methods.
No opinions come into it. No random bursts of inspiration.
Just the stuff that works.
You might not like what you hear.
You might not like what you read.
But every word you get from John is the TRUTH.
And every piece of copy is so carefully crafted, you’re going to need a trust fund to cover his hourly rate.
— Note: If you’re willing to follow him all the way, the results will cover the cost – no problem. —
John Carlton represents what he calls the ‘grizzled pro’. A type of copywriter he relates to a grungy personal investigator – scruffy beard, loose tie (if any) and an unparalleled level of effortless expertise.
You’re going to struggle to find one of these.
And even if you do, you’re probably not going to do business with them … unless you understand the ‘other side’ of the copywriting world …
See, the likes of John don’t just take your brief, do the work, and take your money.
They blow the hinges from the door of your life, grab you by the scruff of your neck and violently shake you into realising your most logical next step in business.
They’re not just copywriters. They’re consultants.
And they’re the best in the world when it comes to the most important part of business – making people buy.
They can’t help it.
From the moment you shake hands, John’s sizing up your proposition.
He’s judging your clothes.
On the way into your office, he’s already gossiped with half your staff and gathered as much dirt on you as possible.
He’s shared a coffee with the Complaints department.
And he’s probably been testing your product for months, just to see what the customers are putting up with.
Once a grizzled pro knows the job at hand, he’s going to carry out a ridiculous level of research, in order to properly empathise with your target customer.
He will discover something that you don’t even know (or realise you know) about your product. And use that to sell it in the most captivating, unignorable way possible.
Again … you probably won’t like what you read.
And that’s the goal.
John Carlton deliberately aims to make his clients uncomfortable.
If they say they like the ad … he knows it’s not good enough yet.
His mentor in Gary Halbert would go to a bar to test out his ads. If the barman reacted with something “that’s a great advertisement” … Halbert knew it was off.
You will not be YES MANNED by a grizzled pro. But you will see immense results from his work.
And while he works on your landing page, he’s going to spot 100+ ways to improve your website, or your product, or your social media pages, or your email newsletters, or your business, or even your attitude.
He’s going to increase your sales, even if you need to be dragged kicking and screaming.
I feel nowhere near this level myself. And the Content Cavern would be so lucky to have one of these guys on our team.
Who knows? We might get there one day.
For now, you’re invited to join us in learning more about people like John … and what it takes to be a world class copywriter.
It’s free to join the Content Cavern. As part of your membership, you can test your level of copywriting ability by trying our free content critique … if you’ve got the heart, that is.