What’s the definition of copywriting you ask?
The short answer is “writing with the goal of selling”.
The Google answer from Oxford Language will tell you that copywriting is “the activity or occupation of writing the text of advertisements or publicity material”.
The famous answer coined by copywriter John E. Kennedy in 1904 is “salesmanship in print”.
I’m here to tell you that it’s so much more.
In this article, I’m going to share a simple definition of copywriting, as well as go over some of the thought processes behind it and common examples.
But first things first: if you want to learn the basics of copywriting, grab my free guide to get started immediately!👇🏼
Download the guide to learn 5 basics of copywriting.
You'll also receive my newsletter and other copywriting trainings.
Wooh! Head to your inbox to confirm your subscription and get your free download.
Now, on to the good-er stuff.
Why You Need to Understand What Copywriting Is
Copywriting gives you the power to turn any piece of text into a money-making machine.
Here’s a high-level example:
Effective copy in social media posts or ads will drive people to your website. Effective calls-to-action on your website will grow your email list. And effective email subject lines and email copy will create engaged customers that buy your products again and again!
It doesn’t always go in that order, but that’s a very simple explanation of how understanding how to write copy that appeals to your target audience quickly snowballs into a streamlined business model with consistent growth.
You already know a lot more about copywriting than you realize. Billboards, Facebook Ads, Instagram captions, magazine covers, product labels, emails, websites—the list goes on! Basically anywhere you see an advertisement, it’s copywriting.
So, whether you want to learn how to be a copywriter, are looking for jobs in copywriting or are looking to hire a copywriter, you need to understand what copywriting is so you can spot effective copy when you write it yourself or pay for it.
The Definition of Copywriting
Really quick, let’s get something straight. Copywrite and copyright are two totally different things. I’m just gonna go over copywriting.
When someone asks me “what does copywriting mean?” this is what I tell them:
When someone refers to the “copy” on a page they’re referring to the text. But copy is more than any old text you read online, it’s a specific kind of text!
Copy is text that’s written with the goal of getting someone to take an action, like subscribing to your newsletter or buying your product. Effective copywriting gets people to take an action by appealing to their [often deepest] desires.
If you’re selling weight loss pills, for example, you would sell the desires behind wanting to lose weight and the outcomes of losing weight.
- Feeling confident in a bikini on your beach vacation
- Loving your reflection instead of dreading passing a mirror
- Getting positive attention from the opposite sex
- Looking great in a certain style clothing
- Having the energy to keep up with your kids
You need to get inside the reader’s head and show them that you know what they’re going through and what they want the most.
Is the Definition of Copywriting the Same as Content Writing?
It’s also important to know that copywriting is different from content writing. Unlike copywriting, content writing is words written to inform, inspire or entertain with no specific action as the end goal. Think blogs, long-form articles and website content.
Copywriting technically falls under content writing because it’s a type of content, but not all content writing is copywriting because not all content has the purpose of getting someone to take an action.
Ok…But What Is Copywriting, Really?
I’ve given you a few definitions of copywriting. Now, here are a few emotional examples that you can probably relate to.
Copywriting is the ad you see that describes your problem better than you could—and points you to a solution.
It’s the killer email subject line that you can’t resist opening, even though you’ve been meaning to unsubscribe from that newsletter for weeks.
Or the phrase you read on a website that makes you immediately like the brand and feel like you know the people behind it.
And it’s the 8-page sales page you can’t stop reading because it perfectly describes everything you’re going through and calls out your deepest desires, even though you totally know it’s a salesy sales letter and there’s an outrageously expensive offer at the end.
What Makes Good Copywriting?
And by “good”, I mean effective.
The difference between effective copy and crappy copy is the emotional response it creates in the reader. You want your copy to appeal to your target audience’s deepest desires. That way, they feel something when they read your copy and take the necessary action to follow through.
When you’re selling a “proven day-trading formula to increase your income by $100k per year”, it’s much more effective to relate to the reader by pointing out their current pain points and desires backed by emotion, than it is to just talk about $100k and how it can buy them a new BMW.
- “Wouldn’t it be nice to finally take your family on a vacation?”
- “Imagine having the funds to get ALL your home renovation projects done, AND THEN SOME. Heck, you could pay off your house.” “Picture your kids playing in a brand new pool that you paid for in CASH.”
- “No more tracking the cost of each item at the grocery store to make sure you have enough or living paycheck to paycheck…”
What Are Examples of Copywriting?
Copywriting comes in many forms—as many forms as there’s space for words on this planet! The most common examples of copywriting that you’ll run into online are
- Headlines (aka blog titles, email subject lines, ad headlines)
- Social Media Posts
- Sales Letters
- Website Copy
- Landing Pages
- Video Scripts
- Product Descriptions
While all types of copywriting follow the same basic principles, there are a few specialties or niches that copywriters brand themselves with nowadays. Some copywriters break down their specialty to what they work on, like “Email Copywriter” or “Website Copywriter”, while others focus on a broader area of expertise, like Brand Copywriting or Direct Response Copywriting.
What Does Copywriter Do All Day?
Mainly research and procrastinate. Not much writing at all, actually. That is…if they’re one of the good ones.
Step 1: Research
Okay, jokes aside. Copywriters spend most of their time researching, not writing. In fact, Eugene Schwartz, one of the most famous copywriters who ever lived, claimed he spent 80 percent of his time researching and only 20 percent writing!
Research is actually why I love working as a copywriter. I get to learn about products and industries I’d never be interested in otherwise. My favorite part of research for copywriting is doing audience research and learning what makes different target audiences tick (aka buy 😉). A ton of psychology goes into marketing and copywriting is no exception.
Step 2: Write
The second step of copywriting is pulling together all your research notes into an outline (for long-form work) or an idea bank you can begin working from.
This step is really messy. Every writer does it somewhat differently, but the goal is to put words on the damn page. My proficiency with this is directly related to how close the deadline is. 😜
For me, this is the most challenging step. The copy is not even close to the final result in this stage, but once I get the bulk of my ideas down in an organized framework, it feels like the hard part is over.
Step 3: Rewrite & Assemble
“Copy isn’t written; it’s assembled” – Eugene Schwartz
Eugene Schwartz is right. The copy itself is important, but the way it’s organized is equally as important.
The final hours, days or weeks of a project are spent rewriting and rearranging. Sometimes you get lucky and the final piece is pretty in line with your first draft, structurally. Other times, as you rewrite and rearrange, the entire piece, or at least major sections, has to be re-written because it no longer makes sense.
Step 4: Revisions
Once you have something you consider your “final draft”, it goes to your team, client, and/or copy editor for editing and revisions.
This step is crucial because you get feedback on all parts of your copy and learn what is confusing, what can be improved and what can be corrected. Revisions and edits range from picking up grammatical errors and correcting stats to overhauling the entire positioning of the project.
However, proper communication with your team throughout the project, research and drafts helps avoid the latter.
Step 5: Working With a Designer
You won’t work with a designer on every single copywriting project, but you will on most. This is where your copy gets put into its final home, like a banner ad, Facebook ad, sales page or product page, to name a few.
Working with a designer can go a few ways. They might have a design that you write copy to fit into or vice versa, they might create the design around your copy. Sometimes, you’ll collaborate along the way.
As the copywriter, you want to leave the design to the designer. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your ideas for a project! In fact, giving the designer your vision or ideas for a piece of copy helps them get started on the creative process!
Step 6: The Fun Begins!
Eventually, (hopefully sooner than later) you have the final product. This is where the real fun happens.
You get to see your research and ideas performing (or not) out in the real world!
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Copywriter?
Now that you fully understand what copywriting is, you’re probably wondering what skills you need to be a copywriter. I’m going to go over the high-level skills you need for the many jobs in copywriting, including both freelance and agency work.
Basic Understanding of Marketing & Advertising because copywriting is selling and you have to understand what makes people buy in order to sell to them. Fortunately, anyone can learn the basics of marketing—so don’t let this hold you back!
Research because, as I mentioned above, one of the most important skills you need as a copywriter is the ability to research. Again, this is great news for everyone because research skills can be learned.
Endless Curiosity because copywriting requires constant learning. It’s one of those fields where you can always improve with neverending challenges. This is also what makes copywriting so fun!
Grit because any time you’re learning something new, doubt and imposter syndrome creep in and make you feel like giving up.
Patience because every project presents its own challenges and as a new copywriter, it takes time to see results and improvement.
How to Become a Copywriter
Now, I can only imagine that after learning so much about the definition of copywriting, you’re so intrigued you want to become one. Well, I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that learning copywriting is pretty much the same as learning anything. The bad news is that that means it takes tons of practice and patience.
- Start by reading books about copywriting by the greats and taking online copywriting courses.
- Create a swipe file so you get in the habit of looking for effective copywriting in your daily life. (I like to use Evernote for my swipe file—it’s free!)
- Practice copywriting by mimicking the copy in your swipe file. For example, when you see a great ad or headline, try recreating it for a different product or brand. The only way to improve your copywriting skill is to write copy!
- Build a portfolio of spec ads. (Spec ads are fake ads or copywriting projects that you think of and create yourself for practice and to build a portfolio that shows off your ability even though you haven’t been hired for any paid projects yet. You can create spec ads for real or fake products and brands, but a spec ad must always be labeled “Spec Ad”. Pro tip: Put a ton of work into your spec ad portfolio so it’s as convincing as a paid-work portfolio because this is how your first clients will decide if you’re worth hiring.)
- Create a portfolio website and start marketing your copywriting services to everyone you know! Do your first projects for friends and family, or at low rates so you can build your portfolio quickly. You can increase your rates as your copywriting skills and portfolio improve.
Voila! Before you know it, you’re a professional copywriter with a real portfolio to back up your skills.
Now that you know the definition of copywriting, you’re ready to move on to learning copywriting yourself. That’s where my guide on the basics of copywriting comes in. You can download it now!
How you do define copywriting? How has copywriting been defined to you before? Was my explanation different than what you’ve learned before?