When it comes to successful copywriting, there’s no one way to define what makes it good. This can quickly become frustrating, especially when you’re looking to improve your skills and produce better copy for your clients. But this doesn’t mean there are no reliable means to measure what makes a good copywriter, as despite there being no hard and fast rules, there are some key areas that will always be important, no matter the type of job you’re working on.
How to define copywriting skills
To develop excellent copywriting skills, you need to go right back to basics, which means writing with impeccable spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Although this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised by how many writers make basic mistakes they’re simply not aware are wrong. A great starting place is our essential grammar checklist, which should help you spot any errors in your own work.
It does take time to build up your knowledge and confidence in these areas, but even professionals make mistakes from time to time. This is why investing in quality spell checking software is never a bad idea and won’t make you any less of a writer, just one that’s more prepared. Installing a programme like Grammarly or Ginger can help you spot errors, acting as a second pair of eyes when proofreading so that little things don’t slip through your net.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re sticking to any required word and character counts, such as if writing for templates and meta content, so a service like Character Count Online is always handy to have on your list of bookmarks.
Although copywriters can specialise their skillsets to focus on one particular style or form, the roles of most copywriters involve being able to produce text on just about anything. This means being able to follow the instructions in any brief and adapting your writing appropriately to the client’s audience and the tone of voice. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the brand the content is being produced for, as copywriting isn’t about developing your own voice, but about being able to adopt someone else’s seamlessly.
You’ll also need to know your stuff when it comes to blogs, press releases, web pages, meta descriptions and more. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to copywriting, and crafting a catchy headline is different from producing an instruction manual or long-form blog post. Familiarise yourself with the different types of copywriting you could be doing and make sure you’re clued up on how to approach each of them.
As a copywriter, it’s unlikely you’ll have expertise in every topic you’re asked to write about, particularly for niche or very technical pieces. This means you’ll need to be a highly competent researcher and be able to condense difficult topics into easy to understand copy.
Before writing about a particular product, it’s important to fully understand its USPs and the consumers who want to buy it, as well as exactly what it does. These all involve research, as not every brief will spoon-feed you the information that needs to be included in a piece; this is your job.
Originality and creativity
These are aspects of writing that can be difficult to measure, but copywriters do need to make sure everything they write is as unique as possible. This is something that has become particularly important in this digital age, as it’s all too easy for plagiarism software to pick up on even a hint of similar copy from across the web. Many businesses will be using Copyscape to check whether your writing matches any existing pieces.
It’s easier to plagiarise by accident than you might think, especially if you’re sourcing information online or even using a client’s own copy (which they might not have told you was plagiarised to begin with!). This comes back to effective research skills, but it’s important not to respin existing articles on the web. Not only can this flag up as plagiarism, but it means readers may have already accessed this content elsewhere and feel as though they’re learning nothing new. It’s always best to use multiple sources of information for your writing to be as original and insightful as possible.
SEO and user experience
Although it isn’t crucial for a copywriter to know the ins and outs of SEO, it’s important they have an awareness of how to integrate it into their writing, especially when producing work for a digital audience. Understanding how Google’s algorithms work isn’t something most copywriters concern themselves with, rather they focus on making a piece of writing attractive to its human audience, with keywords slipped in to keep search engines happy. This is easier said than done, but there are certain tips and tricks to being well on the way to getting it right.
Perhaps most importantly, you shouldn’t ‘stuff’ keywords into any piece of writing or have them appear in every sentence, as this makes your copy sound repetitive. Equally, just because keywords seem ungrammatical doesn’t mean they should be forced into sentences as they are. Sometimes it’s OK to swap some words around or insert punctuation or connecting words like ‘in’ to maintain the flow, but other times you might have to get creative. There are also certain places in copy that keywords function at their best, like in the first sentence and in at least one subheading. Keywords should never cause a piece of copy to read stiffly or sound unprofessional, making this an essential copywriting skill.
It might not be possible to find a dictionary definition for copywriting skills, but if you keep in mind these key areas, you’ll be on the right track to producing excellent pieces of work time and time again. At the end of the day, the ability to meet a client’s expectations is the most important part of any copywriter’s role, so make sure you’re clear on these before you begin any job.