Because copywriting is used in so very many ways, to describe so very many activities, there is no one tried-and-true definition.
I’ll start this article right off by telling you that people may disagree with me on the definition of copywriting, and throughout this post.
That’s mainly because people are disagreeable. I think we can all … well, agree. (There’s even a book called People Are Unappealing: Even Me. That says it all.)
But more importantly, people will disagree because copywriting has such widespread functions that it’s almost impossible to nail down the difference between true copywriting, blogging, direct marketing and so on and so forth.
And I don’t really care, because I’m about to add my own.
… well, not yet. But here I go … nooowwwwwww.
Let’s start with a definition most people don’t disagree with: Copywriting is using words to get people to take some sort of action.
This can pretty much mean anything.
In the old days, it meant convincing people through old-timey (now, not then) posters or circulars to buy shaving powder, fabric, rickrack and whatever else it is people bought back then. Now it’s used all over print collateral, shops, the interwebz and more. No longer is copywriting restricted to retailers; it’s everywhere.
The point, in any case, is to sell. It might not be a physical product or a direct service. It could be more of an intangible, like selling expertise to get someone’s email address. But we all have something to sell, and selling requires copy.
That’s good for you, my writing friend, because it means everyone and their cool old grandfather who knits hats on a circular loom needs your copywriting skills.
“Okay, so what does it even mean to write copy?” asks everybody in the world, even though we’ve all pretended to understand it and don’t, really. That’s because copywriting has about eight trillion definitions that everyone molds to their own uses.
At its most basic, “copy” refers to advertorial language designed to get someone to do or buy something. A “copywriter,” intuitively enough, is a writer who creates the copy that goes on websites, and into blog posts, email newsletters and ebooks. Copy also includes the short taglines, phrases or sentences that make up ad headlines and sponsored social media posts, and even the words on billboards and bus stop benches.
You probably won’t start writing copy for billboards right out of the gate (I never have, anyway) – buy hey, it’s a big world. You never know.
The thing most people don’t understand about copywriting is that it isn’t all about sell-sell-selling.
I mean, yes, it is often about selling … but it’s not about getting something for nothing. Copywriting is all about encouraging a relationship between your client and their audience that is mutually beneficial: your client sells their product or service, but their audience gets information, products or goods that they need to improve their lives.
Often for free.
Sure, sometimes it is a more straightforward “gimme all your monies!” For instance, in the case of a web advertisement, the verbiage employed usually translates more or less to: “BUY THIS YOU WILL LOVE IT OMG I SWEAR I SWEAR DO IIITTTTTTT.”
Or sometimes (in more genteel fashion), the copy runs more along the lines of: “I really think you might like this here thingie, so learn more at my politely understated site, linked here.”
Copy can even be totally without a sales angle, like the copy for a nonprofit website or university. Although even there, let’s be honest: the nonprofit wants your donations and the school wants your soul on a silver plate, mortgaged until infinite and chased with braised scallions. So there’s that.
(Pssst …. want to learn more about copywriting so you can start or amp up your own business today? Check out the Free Resource Library by clicking on that image below.)
Whatever the case, copywriting is about offering the other person something to draw them in, and that’s usually more than just information. It might mean a short download, or a membership or a coupon. Perhaps it’s mild entertainment, or a brief distraction or an answer to a burning question. Or a tip that will save them a lot of money … or even just a little.
Or it could consist of a tidbit of information, however small, that might improve a person’s life. Think blog titles or email subject lines such as:
It’s not much, right? Just a little seed of information to get someone to click on a blog title or open their email. But in many cases, it’s the start of a relationship. Once someone reads those words, and understands your client has something they want, your client has an in – and they’ll pay you dearly for it.
That’s copy. Words that pull someone in to kick off a deeper, longer conversation, to the advantage of all involved.
Copy can be more or less forthright.
Personally, I love the latter kind, the kind that lets you really build a relationship with a person. Blog posts, emails and articles all enable you to connect with people on the levels they choose – after all, they signed up for the mailing list or entered the Google search term that returned the blog post. That’s key, because when someone chooses to engage, you actually have their attention. I refer to this as direct marketing copywriting, although again, people will disagree with me there.
Less forthright forms of copywriting include talking about a nonprofit’s goals or a university’s long and amazing history. But the goal is still to compel action, and the words still need to be well-smithed.
You can do that smithing. (Totally a word. I’m such a guuuuuuurd copywriter.) It doesn’t matter what the goals are: to build an audience, to gain a devoted client following, to help your clients build their audiences so that they come to you again and again … it can all be done with good copy.
It’s not that hard, either:
If you want your audience to love you, speak to them on their level. If you want your clients to love you and hire you again and again, you need to snag the attention of their audiences. You need to get those audiences to engage willingly, and then you need to convince them they want what your client is offering.
It might not sound like a thrill a minute, but I’ll tell you: when you do it right, it’s pretty damn amazing.
So that’s it. Your basic crash course on this ever-so-confusing definition. I won’t go into how to get started yourself in this blog post, since that is basically the goal of every other blog post I’ve ever written, so check some other posts on that subject here.
If you want to know even more, please feel free to check out the Free Resource Library. Just click that purty image below, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can download guides, worksheets and checklists to help you get started on the career of your dreams today.
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