Cut to the chase, give me a copywriting definition

Copywriting? Give me a copywriting definition now, you pretentious wannabe.

Following the 10 commandments of email copywriting, here I go for some broader brush strokes and give you a copywriting definition, in terms of what I do and what I can do for you and your business.

Copywriting can be regarded as nebulous, difficult to define and the reason for this is that much of the copy you and I read day to day is ghostwritten.

We don’t pass a Tesco, and see “Every Little Helps” ending with a copywriter’s signature.

We don’t nod at it and say “Well worded Tom Smith”.

Honda’s “The Power of Dreams” isn’t signed either.

Very little is.

A copywriting definition should surely include a mention of anonymity.

I could point you to quite a few businesses I’ve worked with, in terms of copywriting and expose my Ready Brek glow of pride at seeing my words being published and read, but it doesn’t work like that really.

A business commissions me, I write copy, they own it.

I do though now need to cut to the chase and attempt a copywriting definition.

Like Mr Mange Tout (that mad digester of machinery), let me break it down:

  1. Copywriting for Advertising – it’s what the world expects. Any copywriting  definition has to encompass marketing – copy is designed to promote and sell. It’s a major part of the copywriting industry.
  2. Copywriting for Specialisms. Producing medical manuals, white papers, technical documents for a certain field. I saw a job the other day that was right up my street, I thought, converting technical material to student and parent speak for education – until I saw it was Science. Not for me. My personal copywriting definition is copy mainly for the property industry, though I’m no slouch in other areas.
  3. Content writing. I read recently that Amazon, in terms of product searches, is on the brink of overtaking Google searches for certain items. Stands to reason really. You want to know about a TV? You can Google it or read information on Amazon and real reviews. It’s how Trip Advisor works too – they’re not encouraging reviews in some philanthropic way – they want content being read and then, like Amazon or John Lewis, they can steer you to booking.com or Expedia. Content writing provides information for the reader and, consciously or subliminally, a reader will come back for more and buy as a result.
  4. SEO copywriting. Put simply it’s writing for search engines. It’s not about keyword stuffing, cheap fixes like PPC, it’s about being rewarded by Google in its hierarchy for providing answers to what people are asking. It’s about organic growth. Any copywriting definition has to include Search Engine Optimisation.
  5. Email copywriting – getting people to engage with what is sent, getting the emails opened, shared and the calls to action being followed. See my 10 commandments of email copywriting here.
  6. Printed copywriting. In the days before the web and email and smartphones, print was the main form of copywriting. Still mightily powerful. A printed brochure, a leaflet, a catalogue can have as much impact as digital copywriting and it is not dead yet, despite the demise of printed newspapers. It can be broken down further though: headlines, subtitles, sales letters, video scripts etc.

Bruce Bendinger has a pithier copywriting definition, which I love:

Copywriting is a job.

A skilled craft.

Verbal carpentry.

Words on paper.

And one more thing.

Salesmanship.

Summed up in six lines, defining copywriting as a job, a skill and marketing.

It’s my job, now.

One I began in earnest almost a year ago in terms of committing myself to it as a career, but that really began at the age of five.

Yes, just like Tiger Woods took to golf, I took copywriting seriously from a young age, when I spotted a spelling error by the teacher on my first day at school. I totally impressed Mrs Holiday (well she feigned being impressed, probably muttered precocious brat) by pointing out her error.

She challenged my assertion but backed down when she checked the spelling.

I was a copywriter in the making at age five.

Teacher 0 – 5 year old Stuart Walton 1.

A successful life of studying English with A levels and a degree in linguistics and literature followed, along with a career of literacy teaching from 1987.

I always wanted to be defined as a writer, a copywriter and now I am.

Cut me in half and there’s a copywriting definition running right through me.

Hyperbole.

Yep.

But.

Taking a step back to look again at a copywriting definition, have you ever pondered how we’re surrounded by language?

You and I are assailed by it daily – road signs, adverts online, what we eat and drink, what we see, is all shaped by copy.

Language is omniscient in our lives.

The danger of course with words is that they become white noise, we see them, but pay little attention, because our senses are overwhelmed with linguistic assaults.

I could list all the things I see and read from waking up as I’m sure you could, and it is an onslaught, though most of it is welcome.

Copywriting, a good copywriting definition, is words that stand out from the white noise.

Good copy has to connect, engage and trigger some action.

Copywriting is a job.

Yes, yes it is. It’s what I do for a living. It’s what I love doing too.

Okay, my commute is 10 seconds from bedroom to office, the politics and sociability is conspicuous by its absence, the work is either feast or famine, but shaping words, playing with phrases, sentences and paragraphs leaves me all tingly inside, like a human Fimble.

This blog post headline took a lot of time to construct: Cut to the chase, give me a copywriting definition. Writing the rest was easier than building that title, believe me.

My job can start at 8am or 4pm; can end at 11 am or midnight, depending on demand, but it gives me enormous satisfaction; on a par with teaching actually.

A skilled craft.

I haven’t got a skill to lay a floor, restore a sash window, service a car.

I haven’t got many practical skills actually, but I do personally believe I have a skill in writing.

It’s been there since I impressed (or irritated) Mrs Holiday and throughout my English degree and teaching career.

Like a cabinet maker who can craft a fine piece of furniture, I can create copy, through my experience, skills and passion for language.

Verbal carpentry.

Give me an oak tree and I’ll hone it to a fine bookshelf or hardwood flooring.

No I won’t.

You know I can’t.

I have no carpentry skills but I’m a linguistic joiner, sadly not multi-lingual no, unlike my wife.

I speak Yorkshire with a smattering of Manchester and Norfolk, but that’s my verbal carpentry done.

Except I think I can join words and weave language, to make some sense.

I can do it for you too.

Words on paper.

Whether that’s printed or digital, the words matter.

A copywriting definition cannot exclude print – print matters.

A quotation that still sticks with me, particularly, as someone who witnessed the Miner’s Strike close to my original Doncaster home, is some truth Arthur Scargill stated, which paraphrased, went along the lines of: “My father read the dictionary every day as he said your life depends on being able to use words.”

Spot on too.

Salesmanship.

Content engages and ultimately sells.

Bloody obvious really – it’s why big companies pay people to tweet, pay agencies to run their social media platforms.

Costa Coffee and Starbucks are not tweeting constantly through altruism – it’s to sell overpriced and frankly foul coffee.

It works too.

Words sell products and services, it’s obvious.

What I’ll now address in this copywriting definition post is how to get the basics right – the 10 commandments if you like, to coin a phrase:

  • What people are searching for online. You can write copy and expect to reach page one of Google if you narrow it down. I could make page one of “Copywriters Norfolk UK” very quickly but I don’t and I won’t. Why not? Simple. No one is searching for that – according to Google keyword tools. When I say no-one, I mean 10 searches a month, 120 a year, which signals to me that there’s no point. If I was a local business, like an estate agency in Norfolk, I could see the benefits of capitalising on the 300 monthly searches for estate agents in Norfolk,but 10 for “Norfolk Copywriters”? I’ll leave it thanks.

Do you know what people are searching for around your business?

  • What to write about in your news section. You’ve identified searches, you’ve employed a SEO web designer to build keywords into your landing page and all looks great. That news tab is gasping to be filled with content and here you hit a wall. Writer’s block. Call it what you will. You need to look again at what is being searched for and build content for this, one step at a time. There’s no quick fix. Google is not flaming Sambuca. It’s a slow, strategic climb and your blog is part, a huge part, of getting on that bottom rung of the SEO ladder. Unique content is needed. Written for humans not Google robots. Written with a voice, not for algorithms. Daily, weekly, monthly blog posts to sate an audience, establish your business as a thought leader and generate enquiries and sales. Copywriting, great copywriting, a copywriting definition, if you like, should deliver that.

Do you know what to write about?

  • Headlines. Spend as much time on the title as you do on the content. It’s vital you see. It’s crucial in an email subject line or a blog post headline. My most read LinkedIn article had the pithy title: “How to move up not sideways in crabby Cromer.” It worked as it was geographically defined (Cromer, north Norfolk), it had the key phrase “How to” which implies something to be learned and there was a clever play on words with “sideways” and the alliterative “crabby”. I dined out (metaphorically) for days on that title, puffing my chest out with pride when I recalled it. Headlines have to be the right length, the right number of characters, and have that magic mixture of common, uncommon, power and emotional words. It took me ages that headline but it paid me back tenfold in terms of views and shares.

Are your headlines up to scratch?

  • The opening sentence. Like the headline, it’s a hook. What is your hook? What will encourage readers, clients, customers to read on? Look at mine again. Did its passive-aggressive tone engage or distract? Copywriting? Give me a copywriting definition now, you pretentious wannabe. It was intentional. Did it grab or disappoint? I am curious.  Great novels have great openings – think of “Great Expectations” with Pip’s convoluted explanation of his name or “In a hole, in the ground, there lived a hobbit” or “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Okay Dickens, Tolkien and Orwell were not writing email campaigns or blog posts but writing, and writing brilliantly, was what they did.

Does your opening sentence grab attention?

  • Featured images. I hate reading blog posts, articles, newsletters, email marketing shots, when there is no imagery to attract attention. I often wonder why modern fiction doesn’t have illustrations – Dickens did, Roald Dahl did, by why not an Ian McEwan novel or Margaret Atwood? To me, it makes sense. Your blog posts, your news sections, your copywriting needs imagery, along with a titular featured image. A good featured image will encourage clicks and make your writing visually and linguistically stimulating.

Are you using branded, featured images to preface your blog posts?

  • The content. Do you know how much to write in a blog post, do you know how to structure it? 300 words minimum. Use second person. There. All is revealed. Except that is too simplistic. We can all write 300 words, twice a day, can’t we? But it’s like throwing a tiny pebble in the ocean and expecting to surf off the impact. It won’t make much difference I’m afraid. Blogging has to be strategic, varied in length and make an impact on the Google sea. 300 words make cause a plop, but a 10,000 word blog, written carefully, pruned assiduously with targeted social media sharing may cause a ripple. Not an immediate ripple mind. Larger stones, carefully and regularly placed will have impact – but be patient – content may be king, content marketing may be de rigeur, but weak content, short content is actually counter-productive. Less is more, quality over quantity are copywriting definitions, albeit a bit hackneyed.

How does your content stack up? 

  • Structure. I’ll confess something to you right now. Structure in essays baffled students generally. Writing “Remember paragraphs” as a summative comment often drew bewildered looks – no wonder, paragraphing is an art form in itself. The rules of blogging though are different – the structure doesn’t have to follow normal grammatical conventions, in fact shorter sentences and frequent paragraph breaks are applauded. As is the use of You – any copywriter, worth their Maldon Sea Salt, will tell you to use the Second Person voice of You and Your. It’s a marketing tactic you see, as you’re speaking to a potential buyer so use You.

Do you know how to structure a blog post?

  • Proofread, check and check again. Like Mrs Holiday who made a 1970’s faux pas, don’t embarrass yourself by making errors in your own or others’ work. We are human, to err is human. We all make mistakes. I’ve made many. But that final copy needs to be flawless, in terms of readability, grammar and spelling. I still recall standing next to someone at a conference who proudly unfurled his roller banners, telling me how portable they were and how much they cost, only for me to point out, like that annoying 5 year old, his spelling error on the banner. He was mortified and those £200 banners were rendered worthless to him as once seen, they could not be unseen. Check and check again.

Who is checking your copy for readability, grammar and spelling errors?

  • The calls to action. Where are they in your copy? What do they ask a reader to do and how compelling are they? CTAs are vital in a blog post, an email campaign as they get the customer to do something. Do you want them to follow you on Twitter, add to Basket, sign up for a free e-book or checkout? I have drafted and will publish soon a whole lecture, for want of a better word, on Calls to Action. Like headlines, structure, they could occupy 5000 words on their own and that’s coming soon. Be warned. A copywriting definition could well be getting a reader to follow a desired course of action.

Do your Calls to Action rise or sink?

  • Social media linkage. Social media is the way of driving traffic to your website. You don’t have to be on all platforms, measure and assess your audience demands and choose two or three. Which platform works best for me? There’s two actually – LinkedIn and Facebook, poles apart arguably but traffic conductors. A small business owner friend told me Instagram is her most successful platform, for others it’s Twitter. What you cannot do, and should not do, is ignore social media. You can pay people to curate content, to manage accounts, to respond to messages and mentions – all of which establish you as trustworthy. Social media (d0ne right) drives people to your website, engages consumers and establishes your credentials in your field. Great copy on your website needs to be shared and shareable to maximise impact. Sage advice I was given recently was “Spend a week creating and two weeks sharing.” That could be a copywriting definition on its own.

Is your social media activity engaging followers and creating consumer actions?

Finally, if you’d like to know more about how this writer, this attempter of copywriting definition, can grow your business, contact me now.

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