Web copywriting is an exciting career with terrific earnings potential. If you are just starting out or still learning the basics, don’t get discouraged because practically everyone in the world claims to be a copywriter. The fact is, relatively few copywriters have the skills, work habits, and determination to truly stand out. Organizations of all kinds recognize the value of highly skilled web copywriters and compensate them accordingly. Here is practical advice to help you become a star performer as quickly as possible.
1. LEARN SEO
Working knowledge of SEO qualifies you to write SEO content, but perhaps even more important, it makes you highly qualified to write content that is not part of an SEO campaign but where optimization is desirable. Content of that type includes online press releases, blog posts, and many varieties of HTML marketing and sales content. All other things being equal, organizations will hire a copywriter for non-SEO content who knows how to do basic keyword research, weaves keywords appropriately and naturally into text, and recognizes and avoids SEO-damaging copywriting practices. This is the case because non-SEO content assignments sometimes include keyword recommendations and in all cases, on-site content must never undermine an SEO campaign.
2. DEVELOP A SPECIALTY
The great mass of copywriters are generalists, willing to take on any topic for any client. While such versatility is admirable, specialization often makes a writer stand out from the crowd, especially for difficult and high-paying assignments. Some writers specialize in industries such as health care, finance, legal, and other fields with complex issues and terminology. Others acquire expertise in lucrative fields, such as technical writing and advertising copywriting. If a particular industry or type of writing really gets your creative juices flowing, that is where to concentrate.
3. MEET CUSTOMERS
Knowing the sales process and having firsthand experience with customers makes your copy ring true like nothing else in the world. Many copywriters are handicapped by having to rely on web-based sources for insights about customer needs, wants, and behavior. But no substitute exists for visiting customers, participating in sales presentations, and accompanying salespeople on introductory calls and visits to resolve problems. Your customer knowledge will shine through in everything you write, making your content relevant, credible, and persuasive. Anyone can write sales copy. Few can write sales copy that sells.
4. DELETE YOUR THESAURUS BOOKMARK
Somewhere I remember reading if you are using a thesaurus to find the right word, it won’t be the right word. This point is important: the best web copywriting (with certain exceptions) is simple, informal, and clear. Readers, especially when reading on screens, do not have the time or patience to puzzle over a phrase. Copy overflowing with college-level words or industry jargon is ineffective and off-putting. Learn how to rid your copy of jargon and big words. Use a readability calculator to determine the grade level required to read your copy. These tools are obviously most useful when you know your target audience — if you’re unsure what reading level is appropriate, never hesitate to ask.
5. KEEP CURRENT WITH WEB COPYWRITING BEST PRACTICES
Web copywriting best practices continuously change. Keeping up with SEO and content marketing trends not only prevents your work from being out of date before you submit it, but also enables you to add value as a writing, editing, and content strategy coach. If you have decided to specialize in an industry or type of writing, knowing how copywriting best practices are being applied in your area of specialization is equally important — what is true in general may not be true in every field. Find and subscribe to copywriting blogs you find helpful for tips on technique and finding employment. Use AP Stylebook or another applicable reference to make sure your grammar, punctuation, and usage are always up to date.
6. MEET DEADLINES
So far, we’ve looked at writing skills. But work habits and attitude are just as important because employers not only want high-quality content, but they also want good team players and efficient workflow. Let’s start with one of the most important copywriting work habits: meeting the deadline. Missing deadlines is the surest way to lose your job and damage your career. Don’t miss deadlines. If something happens that makes it unavoidable, get ahead of the problem by alerting the people who need to know as soon as possible. If you are given an unreasonable deadline, discuss options before you start working on the assignment. Supervisors and clients unfamiliar with the craft of copywriting don’t always realize the time required to produce a high-quality finished product.
7. LEARN TO TAKE CRITICISM FROM YOUR TEAM
Web copywriters need a thick skin because often their work is reviewed, edited, and evaluated by several people. Members of your team — your editor, SEO manager, content manager, product manager, etc. — probably have good suggestions and corrections to make, although they may not always be adept at expressing them constructively. The key to accepting internal criticism is humility. Don’t let your writer’s ego get in the way of your ability to maintain healthy working relationships and your willingness to learn. In the long run, no matter how talented you are, being able to accept criticism and apply it to future assignments will make you a better writer — and a more popular coworker.
8. LEARN TO TAKE CRITICISM FROM CLIENTS
Internal criticism is one thing, but client criticism is an entirely different animal. Copywriters easily (and often with justification) bristle when non-writers confront them with criticism of their technique. While an attitude of humility is imperative for dealing with internal criticism, the operative word for client criticism and edits is tact. If clients aren’t schooled in the art of copywriting, find constructive and engaging ways to teach them. Remember, too, that client criticism focused on product, service, company, and industry issues is extremely valuable and will vastly improve the quality of your future assignments.
9. DON’T CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Seeking out assignments that particularly interest you is always wise, but to paraphrase an old expression about acting, there are no small assignments, only small writers. Professional copywriters must write even when they don’t feel like writing or have no idea what to write. To do this, develop techniques that keep you fresh and enthusiastic about every assignment. All successful writers create ways to beat writer’s block, from doing their toughest work at the time of day they’re at their mental peak, to taking a walk, to changing keyboards. Don’t be discouraged if your first several attempts fail — the next one may work wonders for your entire career.
Last but not least, read. Good copywriters are great readers, and great copywriters are readers of great books. Yes, I said books. Those things made from paper. Books written by copywriting pros will certainly improve your skills and in a very direct way. But reading books on topics that interest you outside of work, especially those written by accomplished authors, will indirectly improve your skills by showing you effective techniques for expressing opinions, instructions, details, arguments, and narratives. When you find an author you admire, read everything by that author you can get your hands on — you will soon notice an improvement in your work.