Copywriters Tips

Read these 13 Copywriters Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Freelance Design tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Thinking Like a Copywriter

Artisan Talent Tip: Thinking like a copywriter is an important first step in becoming a successful one. Start by paying attention to the advertising and persuasive messages you read in your mail, in magazines and newspapers, on billboards, on the Internet. Which ones work? Which ones don't? Why?

What needs to be in my portfolio as a copywriter?

Your Copywriting Portfolio

If you haven't revisited your freelance copywriting portfolio in a while, or if you're compiling one for the first time, keep in mind these principles:

  • Your portfolio should work like a good piece of copywriting. Your product is your own skills and what they can do for a client. Your target market is people who have copywriting jobs to offer -- agencies, publishers, marketing people.
  • Keep it short and effective -- no more than 10 or 12 printed pages, with no more than two examples per page.
  • Make it available for browsing on your Web site, or for downloading and printing as a PDF.
  • Whenever possible, use real ads you've written instead of fake or spec pieces.
  • When choosing your best work, lean toward more mainstream pieces -- unless you're targeting a specific industry and want to demonstrate expertise within their niche.
  • Demonstrate that you can integrate great writing with visual elements.
  • Show that you're capable of thinking on larger scales, with examples from campaigns instead of just single pieces.
  • Demonstrate an ability to write for a variety of target markets, with strong appeals to each.

Should my copy be more logical or more emotional?

Two in the Heart, One in the Head

Writer Eric Graham describes a military training course that taught him how to kill someone with a gun. The routine was this: Two shots to the heart, then one to the head. The heart shots were meant to provide the easiest target. The head is a harder shot, but is a useful form of insurance if the target is wearing body armor.

Graham extends this rather gruesome description to describe how effective ad copy works. This time you're not trying to end someone's life, just get the sale (or accomplish whatever other goal has been set for your piece).

Appealing to the "heart" -- using emotions to spark interest and desire for your product -- is far easier than using "head" appeals that logically differentiate your product from the competition.

Most people use both emotions and logic to justify a buying decision. But let's be honest with ourselves. A lot of times, logic is used to justify the emotional decisions we've already made. Use your writing to build up to that emotional decision, then weave in the logical justifications -- and you've got a sale.

How can I learn more about my target audience?

Writing for People

Before you start a freelance copywriting project, you need to know a lot of things about your client, its product, its markets, its strategies. When you put pen to paper (or, more likely, choose "File > New" in Word), it's time to put all that information in the back of your mind and focus on writing for your audience.

That's not the same as writing stuff you like. Your audience may be unlike you in some ways, which means doing some research. What magazines do they read? Read some. What kinds of language do they use? Can you find them on the Internet? Use your imagination to put yourself mentally in the place of one of the people in your target audience. Thinking as this person, what do you want most? What motivates you?

You may find yourself generating several ideas for one project. That's fine as a starting point. When you're evaluating your results, though, every sentence, every word should meet the test of "Does it evoke a response from my audience?"

What does a content writer do?

Content Writing

A content writer works on Web sites, using good writing to help a client achieve business goals. This is a useful specialty for a freelance copywriter because the work can often be done online from any location.

A good content writer understands how people read on the Internet, and provides useful information in easy-to-read "chunks" so that users can skim and find the information they need most. Site owners know that having useful content helps drive Web traffic and positions their organizations as experts. The content writer is a vital link between those organizations and their customers.


Yes, You Need a Proofreader

Artisan Talent Tip: Yes, you may be a good freelance copywriter with lots of experience -- but you still shouldn't send anything for publication without a second set of eyes. Ask your client whether your work will be proofread. In an agency or large organization the answer should be "yes." If you're working with a smaller company, you may have to find that second set of eyes yourself. Trade favors with a friend, or recruit a family member to go over your work.


Content Writing

Artisan Talent Tip: Content writers use their writing skills and knowledge of Internet users' habits to craft expert articles that position a Web site as an authority on a subject. Thus, content writers help draw traffic from Internet users who are most interested in the products the site has to sell.

freelancing, ghost writing

Ghost Writing: A Creative Way to Earn Money Freelancing

A creative way to make money from freelance writing is to be a ghost writer. This could open up an opportunity to get your freelancing feet wet as an author or while doing another type of writing you'd like to break into. What happens in a ghost writing deal means you will earn money for ghost writing, yet you will not receive credit and whoever employs you will own all copyrights to the material that is produced.

Do I need a proofreader?

Yes, You Need a Proofreader

You've been over every word three times. You've spell-checked it, read it aloud, read it backward. That's great. You still need a proofreader.

The world of advertising is rife with horror stories of what happens when copy is not proofread before going live before the public. Here are just two examples:

  • A giant billboard over a major Boston highway informed car buyers with bad credit, "YOUR APPROVED!"
  • An ad in Your Prom magazine that directed readers not to the client's prom-dress site, but to a child porn site.

What kind of language should I use in copywriting?

KISS (Keep It Simple, Smartguy)

Good freelance writers understand that persuasive copy has only seconds to attract a prospective customer's attention. One way to have more of an impact is to do what British copywriter Dave Nolan calls "thinking like a Saxon" -- using short, punchy words (many of which have Saxon roots) rather than long ones. So "Eliminate" becomes "End," "upon completion" becomes "when your job is done," etc.

Why? There's a surprising number of people for whom reading is a chore -- they know how, but they don't enjoy it. Even if reading comes easily for your target audience, they are likely to be pressed for time, and the more of their time they have to spend sorting out your ideas, the harder it will be for them to have an emotional reaction to your appeals.

Even in long pieces, you'll turn more readers into customers with simple language, short sentences and paragraphs, and a clear call to action -- "go to our Web site", "ask your doctor today", "vote on Nov. 7" or the simplest of all, "buy now."

What are some characteristics of great headlines?

Headlines that Work

One of the most important skills a copywriter can develop is headline writing. Here are some places you can use it:

  • Envelope taglines for direct-mail pieces, to persuade people to open them and read your great sales letters
  • Titles for Web pages
  • Subject lines for e-mail offers and e-newsletter
Great headlines are positive, offer an immediate benefit to the customer, and ask for the sale. Unless you're specifically targeting a sophisticated, educated audience, stay away from literary allusions and clever wordplay -- your headline may get laughs without getting sales.

Great headlines also use the present tense and concrete language whenever possible, and work well with the visual elements of the piece.

No matter where your freelance writing career takes you, headline writing is a skill worth practicing and highlighting in your portfolio.

What are some first steps in understanding how copywriters work?

Thinking Like a Copywriter

A copywriter's job is to write persuasively, to use words to attract attention and sell a product, a person, an idea or a company.

Getting started as a freelance copywriter is similar to starting a freelance career in other fields. You'll do better if you have contacts in relevant industries (in this case, advertising, public relations and marketing) and a track record of excellent work.

Have you ever seen an advertisement, billboard, direct-mail piece or e-mail newsletter and thought "I could do better than that"? That's a good place to start. Open your junk mail, read it and rewrite it to make it better. Look at the copy in a magazine ad and see if you can figure out the message it's trying to communicate. How would you say it?

Next time you buy something, go back and review why you bought it. Did you read the packaging? Shelf labels? Did you see an ad somewhere, or read about it online? Did you make your choice based on copy on a Web site? Notice what kinds of copy attract your attention as a consumer. See if you can figure out what tools the copywriter used to get your attention and help make the sale.

What do I need to know about Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization

One useful skill for a freelance writer is the ability to write copy that helps your site rise in search engine rankings. This requires learning something about search engine optimization (SEO), a specialized skill that is constantly changing as search engines refine their algorithms.

The basic skill for this kind of writing is incorporating keywords or key phrases into your content. These phrases are statistically common among Web searches, so including them in your copy will make your articles more "findable" online.

It's not enough to just throw those phrases in, though. Your copy has to be informative and engaging, to keep people at your site once they've found you. So you need to include those phrases gracefully, as part of a well-written piece. Can you tell what the keywords were for this tip? If you can't, then I've done a good job as a content writer.

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Carma Spence-Pothitt