What is a copywriter, these days?

What is a copywriter? Good question. Here’s Wikipedia, with my own bolding for emphasis:

Copywriting is the act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing.

Copywriters help create billboards, brochures, catalogs, jingle lyrics, magazine and newspaper advertisements, sales letters and other direct mail, scripts for television or radio commercials, taglines, white papers, social media posts, and other marketing communications.

They are generally known as website content writers or copywriters if their work appears mostly on the Internet.

Curious. The term copywriter seems to apply to all commercial writing for print media and to only some commercial writing for the web.

Instead, people prefer the term ‘content writer’, which reflects a similar change in perception that (as I’ve written) spawned the term content strategist.

So then, what is a copywriter?

Ordinarily, I tell people I’m a copywriter. I do this because, while I write regularly for websites, social media, video, and the like, writing is my true skill.

In other words: if I had to lose all my professional body parts and retain one that kept me alive (so to speak: bear with me), it would be writing.

Thus, I am a copywriter. Whatever anybody else says. Because I am not skilled in content writing: in other words, any ‘content’ I produce is text. However, I work regularly with others, as a copywriter, to produce videos, infographics, apps, and more.

It would be inaccurate of me, I think, to call myself a content writer precisely because I don’t ‘write’ images or videos or anything else.

But I do know how to script a video. Or provide the words for an infographic or app. Because I write. I am a copywriter.

Content Design. Content Creation. Content Strategy

I suspect that the distinction to be made between a ‘pure’ copywriter or a ‘pure’ designer’, and their ‘content’ equivalents, is the reason for the increased popularity of terms like ‘content design’ or ‘content creator’.

Both terms (despite the use of the word design) are discipline-neutral and draw the specialism away from what (due to circumstance, I think) has traditionally been seen as a text-based role.

That is, anybody who trained as a writer (of any kind) and got into commercial writing 10 years ago or before has likely held the title of ‘copywriter’.

Those people, because websites have historically been text-heavy, became specialists in website copy. And they became ‘content writers’.

Now — and this is likely to become increasingly true — content creation could begin with various specialisms. It’s not impossible that video-only sites pop up, and plenty of video-heavy sites already exist.

Sure, those videos would need scripting: but if the video component of a site becomes more important than the text part, the core competencies of the role will more than likely change.

That’s why, to go back to the top of this discussion, I call myself a copywriter and I also call myself a content strategist.

Because realistically, I do know how to determine relevant content, and content types, for the right audiences — and that’s the strategist in me — but if you ask me to produce it, I’m falling back to text.

And that’s what makes me a copywriter. Oh, and a journalist. And a fiction writer. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Enjoy that waffle? Email me!


Copywriting: some examples wot I did

Since 2009 I’ve written for a range of clients, for a range of projects. Aside from ‘pure’ copywriting, that’s covered SEO writing and UX writing.

Some of my work is below. In each case I’ve written content to dramatically decrease users’ interaction cost.

That is:

to make everything so clear that a user knows exactly what they’re seeing and what they need to do, which in turn increases trust and conversion rates. 

If you’d like to hire me, and decrease your customers’ anxiety, just get in touch.

Case study: Albelli (2016-17)

At Albelli, a European e-commerce brand, I incrementally improved every product page to speak clearly to customer needs and get users as quickly as possible to where they wanted to go.

Photo printing product at Albelli
Above: By adding a button with clear text to the header, Albelli improved clickthrough and conversion.

In the case of Albelli, this is the app where users can create and buy a product: so we added clear buttons to every header.

Case study: the International Baccalaureate (2014)

As with Albelli, the International Baccalaureate (IB) needed to streamline its content to make it clear to users what to expect and how to perform the tasks they came to the website to do.

There are numerous examples of this at the IB website, which I’ve summarized in the work I did on the IB’s information architecture (IA).

About the IB screenshot
A large international organisation with many offices and functions, the IB needed to easily communicate what it stands for.

The best example of the work I did, from a writing perspective, is About the IB. Before December 2014, the IB’s ‘about’ content sent users down various paths with no explanation at all; I rewrote it to explain clearly and succinctly to new readers what the IB was, where it began, and what it does. (See an example of the content before December 2014).

Importantly, I linked to areas of the website that could generate revenue for the IB, mapped against clear goals developed in the IA project.

Case study: The Key Support (2012-14)

Last: an example of pure, concise and plain writing that gives readers everything they need to know.

At the Key, an information service for UK schools, everything is written so that readers can understand everything about a topic in ten minutes. To explain it as The Key often explains it: a school leader should be well-versed on a topic after reading one article on the way to a meeting.

I worked at The Key as a writer and researcher from 2012 to 2014, producing two articles per day according to key web writing principles: short sentences, bullet lists, clear citation, and plain English.

To see how that looks, see The Key’s sample articles.