Copywriting isn’t easy. Like any form of creativity, from filmmaking and graphic design to dance and theatre, it’s easy to get started but takes a lifetime to master, and the very best copywriters are the ones who know that there’s always something else to learn about the craft.
There are books, of course – Stephen King’s On Writing is great for writers of any genre, and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style belongs on every copywriter’s bookcase. But books can only get you so far, and if you’re looking for quick wins, then the best bet is to critically evaluate your own writing style and to work with colleagues to identify weaknesses.
A good place to start is by checking your work for these seven major mistakes that have plagued copywriters almost since the very first time someone painted some words on a sign. Let’s get to it.
Ignoring tones of voice
The tone of voice documents is there for a reason. Every brand has a different tone of voice, which is why it’d be super weird if Red Bull suddenly took on a corporate tone. Agency writers, in particular, need to adapt themselves to different tones of voice on a regular basis, but even in-house copywriters are occasionally guilty of flouting their company’s guidelines. Your tone of voice document is like a holy book, so make sure you study it so much you could quote scripture from it.
Failing to proofread
It’s true that there’s a certain joy in creation, which is why it’s often tempting to skip editing and proofreading and to hand in a first draft – especially if you’re under pressure to deliver it. Whatever you do, don’t – a single spelling mistake can cut sales in half, and proofreading is a vital part of a copywriter’s role. If possible, strike up a deal with another copywriter so you proofread each other’s work – after all, two heads are better than one! If you don’t have any copywriting friends (hopefully you do) or don’t want to bother them with your problems, you can use editing services like assignment masters.
Copywriters never used to worry about SEO because that was historically dealt with by the web development team and largely involved the technical build of the website. These days, though, copywriting and SEO go hand in hand, which is why it’s important for copywriters to learn how the words they create fit into a wider SEO strategy. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Not complementing imagery
Copywriters and designers need to work together if they’re to generate the best results. In fact, many copywriters form creative partnerships with designers to make sure that words and visuals are always tightly aligned. You could create the most engaging copy in the world, but if it’s overshadowed by bad design or accompanied by a seemingly irrelevant image then it’s going to lose much of its impact. As a copywriter, you should maintain constant communication with designers throughout the process so that you’re working together instead of in separate silos.
Failing to adapt to different platforms
Facebook isn’t the same as Twitter, and a brochure isn’t the same as a website. That’s why you’ll need to invest the time to tailor your copy for different platforms, always focussing on where it’s actually going to end up. If you’re writing copy for a billboard at the side of a road, for example, then there’s no point writing a long paragraph that motorists will never have time to process.
Missing a call-to-action
A call-to-action is a small section, usually at the end of an article, which tells people what you want them to do next. You might want them to sign up for a free trial, buy a product, sign up to a mailing list or follow you on social networking sites. Whatever it is, you need to take the time to tell people what to do – otherwise, they won’t do it.
Trying to be something you’re not
Copywriters specialize in different disciplines and subject matters for a reason. With writing, in particular, you can tell whether the author is passionate about what they’re talking about, and it rings false if you’re a vegetarian trying to sell bacon or a baby boomer who’s trying to sound ‘down with the kids’. The very best writers find a niche and stick to it, becoming an authority on their chosen subject instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.
Copywriting is undergoing something of a renaissance thanks to the rise of blogging and social media marketing. That means that copywriting is likely to be a relevant skill to marketing departments worldwide for plenty of years to come – and the copywriters who are able to command the largest salaries will be the ones who are the best at what they do.
This list will help, but ultimately the best way to practice is to practice. So go on, get out there – stop reading and start writing. Good luck.
Carol Henderson is a passionate copywriter who loves to share her knowledge about applying writing skills to effective social media, online marketing, and SEO.