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Copywriting 101: The Ultimate Guide to Creating Effective Copy | GoodContent by Semrush
GoodContent by Semrush

Copywriting 101:
The Ultimate Guide to Creating Effective Copy

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Margarita LoktionovaMar 03, 202316 min read

Copywriting is at the heart of marketing and sales. It highlights benefits, answers objections, and sells products and services. Like a crocodile biting at your foot, it’s snappy, engaging and – above all – persuasive.

This guide will give you everything you need to know about copywriting, including a number of useful tricks and techniques you can use.

We’ll also look at the labor market and what it means for you as an employer or copywriter.

Read on and find out more in this copywriting 101.

What Is Copywriting?

What Is Copywriting?

Let’s find out what copywriting means, what function copywriters perform, and when your business might need their help.

What Is Copywriting in Marketing?

What Is Copywriting in Marketing?

Copywriting is sales in written form: A persuasive type of writing that attracts the reader’s attention, holds their interest, sparks or taps into a desire or need. It then tries to get a sale.

Copywriting can be found in newspapers and magazines, in online publications, and in the scripts of radio and television commercials.

The bottom line: If you want someone to buy something from you online, hire a copywriter.

What Is a Copywriter?

What Is a Copywriter?

Copywriters are pro writers who create messages that turn heads. They connect directly with a company’s target audience and are laser focused on selling with their words.

Sure, copywriters are great writers. But they are also often experts in neuromarketing, psychology, sales, and rhetoric.

According to Semrush research, the top five responsibilities of a copywriter are to:

  1. Reflect the brand voice and brand guidelines
  2. Develop long form and short form content
  3. Close collaboration with other teams
  4. Build unique tone of voice
  5. Brainstorm and develop creative concepts
When Is a Copywriter Needed?

When Is a Copywriter Needed?

While many businesses and other organizations are tempted to produce their own copy, there is a lot to be said for hiring professionals.

Smaller companies especially can benefit from using outside experts. It’s often more economical to work with someone on a project-by-project basis, than pay a full-time salary.

When refreshing old marketing methods that are no longer working, copywriters will be able to get your messaging back on track.

Other good times to bring copywriters on board to work with you include:

  • During new publicity campaigns
  • When creating a brand voice for your business
  • When creating high value landing pages
What’s the Difference Between Copywriting and Content Writing?

What’s the Difference Between Copywriting and Content Writing?

Though copywriting and content writing often go together, there are some differences between them.

While content marketing can be found in blogs, podcasts, and videos, among others, copywriting is seen in sales pages, adverts, and targeted emails.

Content Writing vs. Copywriting:

Content Writing vs. Copywriting:

Content writing is when businesses create valuable content. This might include articles, guides, social posts, emails and other formats which can be easily shared. Their aim is to convert prospects into clients or customers. And also to keep existing customers coming back for more.

Copywriting is focused on writing persuasive calls to action. These are designed to push customers into making a specific decision. This might be buying something, or signing up to an email subscription.

So is copywriting marketing or sales? While it still falls under the category of marketing, it certainly is closer to a sales skill.

Different Types of Copywriting

Different Types of Copywriting

There are many different schools of copywriting. The following is a brief list on some of those different copywriting disciplines:

1
Marketing Copywriting

Marketing Copywriting

Marketing copywriting is used to deliver clear and succinct messages in a voice that sounds natural to the particular brand. This type of copywriting can be found on web sales pages, TV, and anywhere else words are being used to sell products.

Here’s an example from Argos.

marketing copywriting example - Argos
2
Social Media Copywriting

Social Media Copywriting

Copywriting for social media sees writers hone messages for companies’ social media pages. Sometimes this means writing messages with character limits, or for video, or captions for photos, while being as on brand as in any other type of copywriting.

Here’s a social media ad from Indestructible Shoes:

social media copywriting example - Indestructible Shoes
3
Brand Copywriting

Brand Copywriting

Brand copywriting is used to establish your organization’s origin story. Also known as brand messaging, among other terms, it communicates your vision, ideals and values clearly to your target audience.

Here are six great examples of Brand storytelling from Michael Brenner, CMO of Marketing Insider Group.

4
Direct Response Copywriting

Direct Response Copywriting

Also known as conversion copywriting, direct response copywriting is all about inspiring the intended audience to do something once they have ingested the information.

Very often the main goal is focused around buying something. But it can also push readers to sign up to a newsletter or give a social media follow. Or perhaps take advantage of a free promotion.

Here’s an example from canvasfactory:

direct response copywriting example - canvasfactory
5
Technical Copywriting

Technical Copywriting

Technical copywriting is used for writing marketing materials, such as case studies, brochures and product guides, for technical industries.

These could include construction, manufacturing, or engineering, and requires copywriters to have very in-depth knowledge of their subject field.

The following example from BMW is aimed at the average consumer – and manages to explain technical concepts in understandable terms.

technical copywriting example - BMW
6
Public Relations Copywriting

Public Relations Copywriting

Copywriting for public relations, often simply called PR, is focused on promoting, informing and influencing the target audience.

That audience can often be made up of journalists and other members of the media. Your aim is to get them to amplify the message by writing about the company, product or service.

Anyone of these examples of press releases from PR Newswire give you an idea of what this type of copywriting entails.

PR copywriting example - Aetna
7
Thought Leadership Copywriting

Thought Leadership Copywriting

Thought leadership copywriting is often produced by ghost writers who are creating articles on behalf of founders or other leaders.

The aim is to promote the named author as an expert in their field and establish their reputation either among the industry or target audience. This type of copywriting can also be thought of as content writing.

Here’s an example of thought leadership on Techcrunch:

thought leadership copywriting example -  Solana
8
Email Copywriting

Email Copywriting

Email copywriting is like direct response copywriting, just delivered to the audience’s inbox.

Copywriters writing emails have to produce sharp subject lines. These get readers to open the message in the first place.

The rest of the copy aims to convince them to make a purchase or commit to another action.

Here’s an example from The Next Web. It uses a compelling, specific subject line, eye catching design and clear copy that gets right to the point:

Email copywriting example - The New WebEmail copywriting example - The New Web
What Is Copywriting for SEO?

What Is Copywriting for SEO?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is the process of improving website traffic, often by using target keywords in text.

SEO copywriting is when writers produce copy to both drive traffic and push readers to take a specific action.

Unlike other SEO practices, such as blogging or content marketing, SEO copywriting is used to build leads that generate sales rather than purely focusing on traffic.

In the landing page below, from messaging platform Slack, we see the SEO phrase “What is Slack?

The page lists the benefits and offers a way to sign up at the end – classic SEO copywriting.

copywriting example - Slack
copywriting example - Slack
A guide to Copywriting Best Practices

A guide to Copywriting Best Practices

Like baking a cake, if you want to be a successful copywriter you need to prepare and follow a recipe.

The following is a list of five of the most important tips for writing strong, clear copy.

1
Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

You’ve got to know who you’re writing for. What are your audience’s buttons? How can you push them into following a call to action?

To learn about your audience and their preferences, you can analyze social media platforms, read updates in Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and follow Reddit and Quora threads.

Besides, regularly checking copy created by the competition and other players in your niche can help you get a better idea of what clicks with your customers.

Finally, you can find useful audience data on analytics platforms.

For example, Google Analytics and social media analytics can show you who is on your website or social channels.

You can discover their location, interests, age, and gender, among other things. This helps you better target your copy.

Go to Google Analytics >> Audience >> Overview

Using Google Analytics to analyze your audience

Another method to try is analyzing keywords helps your copywriters produce the most powerful words for your specific audience.

You can research these using the Keyword Magic Tool. They can show you what people are searching for and which questions they are asking.

For instance, imagine you were writing about hiking trips:

Using Keyword Magic Tool to research keywords for your copy

Such analysis feeds your writing and helps you connect with your audience on a deeper level.

2
Write Clearly

Write Clearly

The best copywriting is never going to win literary prizes.

It has to be clear, concise, and use simple language. Use common spellings and avoid exaggeration. And - where confronted with a choice - always pick common words over rarer, complicated ones.

Good

Better

With so many achievements under her belt, you would be forgiven for thinking that there’s never been a more fortuitous professional - but in truth, she’s earned her success the hard way.

Her considerable achievements come down to skill and not luck, as you might think.

3
Keep it Lean

Keep it Lean

In the trade, editors tell copywriters to keep their copy “tight”. That means no adjectives, short, sharp sentences, and a clear layout.

Every word must be useful and superfluous words should be deleted for the sake of clarity.

Good

Better

If you’ve ever thought about buying really good running shoes, then look no further: These airy numbers will give you the edge over the competition, no matter how fast they are.

Thinking about buying awesome running shoes?

Airy, fast: These ones give you the edge.

4
Use the Second Person

Use the Second Person

Try to use “you,” not “we,” in copywriting.

Don’t tell the reader what your company can do for them - tell them what they can buy, have, or benefit from.

For example, instead of telling a potential customer that “we can deliver your goods in 24 hours,” say “you can have your purchase in 24 hours.”

See how this email from Canva speaks directly to the reader with “your”:

copywriting example - Canva
5
Include a Call to Action

Include a Call to Action

Copywriting without a call to action is a waste of words. Make sure your copy includes a call to action that readers can act on, whatever that may be.

See how this Web Summit email hooks the reader with a sale.

It shows there is scarcity (only 1000 tickets available) and underlines it with “when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

This is a super powerful way of sparking a person into action.

The call to action? It’s simple but unmistakable: “Enter the Sale.

copywriting example, CTA - Web Summit
Different Copywriting Techniques that Get Results

Different Copywriting Techniques that Get Results

When it comes to writing copy, there are lots of ways to make it catchier.

Here are the most powerful:

Use Power Words

Use Power Words

Power words like “free,” “now,” or “discover” can help push readers into following your call to action as quickly as possible. Employ these words to be more persuasive. This list of power words from David Hodder will give you some inspiration.

Follow a Copywriting Formula

Follow a Copywriting Formula

Copywriting formulas help writers with a framework. One example is the Attention, Interest, Desire, Action - or AIDA - framework, which helps writers convert prospects into customers. You can find more on this below in the how to structure your copy section.

Be Emotive

Be Emotive

Do not mistake concise copy with boring, cold copy. Use emotive language to make readers feel some connection to the product or service you are writing about. Get your readers to laugh, cry, feel empathy or even feel the fear of missing out and that’s half the battle won already.

In the example below, the copy is empathetic, using the phrase “a little help”. It’s also aspirational - “Incredible job”.

We also see it as very human/friendly using the conversational “We can so help with that”. For example:

emotional copywriting example Social Proofing

Social Proofing

Social proof is a phenomenon where consumers are more likely to pick the business with more customers, following the herd.

In copywriting, you can do this by building articles out of positive reviews, testimonials, case studies, or influencer endorsement, among other things.

This sales page from personal trainer Jay Ferriggia does a great job of this. It includes both outside endorsement (as seen in) and testimonials.

copywriting example
copywriting example -  testimonials
Use Images

Use Images

Images make written content more attractive and less dreary than mere text. Visuals grab the readers’ attention and help you tell the story in fewer words.

copywriting example - using visuals

Source: PETA

The Power of “Yes”

The Power of “Yes”

Questions where the answer is yes, especially used in multiples, have been proven to boost sales. Find out what you can ask your readers that see them answer “yes” every time.

“Have you ever got home from a long day at work and just wanted to put your feet up?”

Yes. We thought so.

Structuring Your Copywriting

Structuring Your Copywriting

How to Write Headlines

How to Write Headlines

The headline for an article, sales page, email, ad or any other piece of copy can seem like a big deal.

After all, it represents the first bit of your copy that readers - and potential customers - will engage with.

According to Copywritingcourse.com, this headline on a piece of direct mail was the most opened piece of mail for a company called Boardroom, for over three years.

copywriting example - writing headlines

We can see why: After all, it hints at a secret you definitely want to know. It would be hard to let this letter go unread. So, how can you achieve the same effect in your own writing?

Here are some techniques

BLUF (Bottom line up front): Headlines should allude to the most important part of your message. Make sure that the reader knows what the content is going to be about right away.

Keep it simple: The best headlines get straight to the point. Don’t over complicate things. Here’s a great example of simplicity in action from Finimize:

copywriting example - keep it simple

Let the facts do the talking: Have you won an award? Or been featured in a big media piece? Make the event or new the focus of your headline and move on to the body of your copy.

Make it personal: Find a way for your headlines to resonate with readers on a personal level to make them engaged with what you want to say.

How to Structure Your Copy: 5 Frameworks

How to Structure Your Copy: 5 Frameworks

As mentioned previously, there are lots of good copywriting formulas that act as great foundations on which to build your articles. Here are five frameworks you can use:

  • AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action

As mentioned, this formula works by grabbing a reader's attention and feeding them useful information to keep them interested.

Then, using that interest, the writer inspires desire within their audience to push them into following the eventual call to action.

copywriting example - AIDA

This fun print ad from 1974, follows the AIDA structure. Found on Swipefile, it asks a compelling question, compares the Triumph with other sportscars and then goes into a sales pitch.

  • BAB – Before-After-Bridge

This is a simple structure that shows readers how your product or service can change their life.

First you describe the problem or need the audience faces, then what life is like after they use your product or service.

The final bridge section describes how your product or service made solving that problem or meeting that need possible.

Here’s a brilliant BAB example from Basecamp.

  • FAB – Features, Advantages, Benefits

This formula is very straightforward. First, highlight a feature of your product or service, then describe its advantages.

Afterwards, hit your readers with the benefits on offer to push them into taking the plunge on what you are offering.

  • SSS – Star, Story, Solution

This is a great formula for making copy that resonates with readers on a personal level. First introduce the main character - the real or fictional ‘star’ - and tell a relatable story about the problems they encounter.

Then you can lay out how your product or service provided the solution the star of the story was looking for.

  • The 4 Cs – Clear, Concise, Compelling, Credible

This framework is incredibly useful and serves as a strong reminder when writing any copy.

Following this framework can keep your copy easy to understand, with good tight sentences. It also reminds you to build strong arguments backed up by credible data or other information.

We love this example of a sales page from Great Gym Land. Not only are the headlines concise, but it walks you through the benefits and answers objections logically. We nearly signed up.

Great Gym Land - copywriting example

See the full page on Swipefile.

How to Write Calls to Action

How to Write Calls to Action

Calls to action are arguably the most important part of copywriting. Here are some tips on how to craft them.

Make it Urgent

Make it Urgent

Provide a compelling reason as to why your audience should take the plunge now. You can use power words and grammatical tools like exclamation marks to provide that final push to turn a reader into a customer.

Offer an Incentive

Offer an Incentive

Get your marketing team on board to see what you can add to sweeten the deal. Incentives could include everything from discounts on products or services, or even just access to helpful content. Think about what you can offer.

Show Your Worth

Show Your Worth

The best calls to action include the product or service’s value proposition. Make sure you lay out to readers exactly what they will get by signing up to what you are offering them.

Here’s a clear example of a before and after comparison, including the value (money saved) from Clixlo:

copywriting example - Clixlo Becoming a Copywriter

Becoming a Copywriter

Copywriting takes hard work to perfect but is open to all manner of people. Research by Semrush found that almost a quarter of Copywriting job adverts sought candidates with a bachelor’s degree. Even so, those degrees can come from many different writing backgrounds.

They include degrees in marketing, creative writing, English, and journalism, to name but a few.

How to Become a Copywriter

How to Become a Copywriter

While copywriting does not require a degree, many copywriters have been to college. According to Semrush research, the top five most sought after degree areas are:

  • Marketing
  • Writing
  • Communications
  • Journalism
  • English

But whether or not you have studied for the position, these three tips are key for launching your copywriting career:

  1. Read. Read all the examples of copywriting you have time to consume. Read books from successful writers on what works for them. Read news articles to get a sense of writing clearly and concisely.
  2. Pick a speciality. As we explored earlier, there are many different schools of copywriting. Don’t be a jack of all trades – pick the option you like most and try to specialize in that field.
  3. Build your reputation over time. Start simply, taking jobs from job boards and other websites like Copify you can bid on. From there, you can start building your reputation and working with clients directly, cutting out the middleman and working on more ambitious – and more lucrative – projects.
Key Copywriter Skills

Key Copywriter Skills

The State of Content Marketing: 2023 Global Report by Semrush found a number of key copywriting skills that any successful writer will need to forge a great career.

The top 10 skills according to Semrush were:

  1. Four years of writing experience.
  2. Project management.
  3. Excellent written and verbal communication.
  4. Ability to work independently.
  5. Editing and proofreading.
  6. Strong attention to details.
  7. Bachelor degree.
  8. Digital marketing experience.
  9. Time management skills.
  10. Experience writing for an agency.

Of course, lots of other skills can be very helpful for becoming a good copywriter. These include use of Google analytics, or excel, among other programs. However, developing these 10 major skills are vital for a successful career in copywriting.

Copywriter Salaries

Copywriter Salaries

Copywriters can earn good money, especially compared to other writing professions, such as journalists.

According to data from Glassdoor, the average copywriter salary comes in at just over $51,700 per year in the US.

Semrush also found that the top salaries in the field maxed out at around $175,000 per year.

That’s a Wrap

That’s a Wrap

So there it is, the ultimate guide to copywriting. If you could only take away four things from this guide, they should be:

  • Know your audience
  • Write clearly
  • include a call to action
  • And engage your readers’ emotions

If you find yourself short on time or need inspiration, get help from the free Semrush Paraphrasing tool.

This is how it works with a sample sentence:

copywriting example - Paraphrasing tool

It help you rephrase and improve pieces of copy and adapt your text to various channels.

Now, take these hints and tips and make them your own. You’ll soon be writing brilliant copy and forging a career as a great writer. Good luck!

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