18 Jul 2014

What makes for a good copywriter in 2014?

So, you've made your mind up - you're going to be a copywriter. You're handy with a keyboard and know your way around the dictionary and Thesaurus. Go, you!

What's more, you've heard that setting up a blog takes mere minutes. You've identified a subject in which you're confident (enough) to impart authority, add value and answer queries. Awesome! What next?
quill, letter and inkwell in sepia

Before you carry that authority to #1 in every SERPs (hint: that's not gonna happen, no matter what the ads tell you), there's more to being a copywriter than writing.

For sure, go scribble monologues to your heart's content. Release that angst in digital ink. But unless your parents conceived you on a four-leaved clover whilst holding a rabbit's foot apiece, no one is going to find you online. Not today.

Posting your musings or diarytribe was, once upon a time, sufficient to ensure discovery. If you published on a regular basis and repeated [insert keyword here] often enough in your copy, you'd turn up in Search. After a fashion. Today, it's not so simple.

What do clients expect of a copywriter at this semantic dawn?

The task of writing quality, authoritative content for clients is yet more demanding. You're a copywriter first, but content marketer second.

Make no mistake, the client isn't paying you out of allegiance or pity. Those 700 words you scribe constitute only a tiny part of their marketing strategy. Integral, yes. But not the be all and end all.

I digress. You know your trade, fair enough. But the client expects you to know theirs, too. As wrong an assumption as that may be, it's more often than not the case. That's why you must learn the importance of becoming not only a copywriter, but a niche expert. More on that in a later post.

Back to your client. They sell goldfish bowls. Go on then, Smart Alec. Create diverse content about 12" glass globes twice a week for a year. Not so easy, is it? And there are far more diverse and tech-savvy dependent niches than goldfish bowls.

The point is, as a freelancer, you must spend time honing your craft. Underestimate this element at your peril.

The demands of the digital market change on a whim, often led by changes in Google's ranking algorithms. The Catch 22 is that time spent ensuring you remain ahead of your competition leaves less time to become expert in other fields.

Murder, She Wrote; Misery; Castle; Writers take the lead

The old saying "Write what you know" has cemented its place in editors' lore for a reason. It's even more pertinent in 2014 and beyond. Search engines rely on authority, extracted from various sources, to rank content. Proven expertise may even trump links as a ranking factor in the not-too-distant future.

Therefore, producing an unformatted 500-word article in MS Word targeting your (client's) topic is not enough. A client expects you to:
  • understand keyword density, structure and/or research;
  • have a Copyscape (or similar) plagiarism checker account;
  • produce content that not only conveys their message, but ranks in search and attracts social engagement;
  • create an article that fits hand-in-glove into their content marketing strategy.
In short, niche-savvy content marketers are a much more sought-after commodity than a plain old wordsmith. The times, they are a-changing.

Practise perfection before you pitch potential clients

Wouldn't it be awesome to land a job writing about writing or digital marketing. Why? Because learning your craft and then writing about it negates having to specialise in other areas. The problem is, the competition's hot (damn hot!). Established copywriters already tenure the majority of those roles.
Asian lady poised to write in notebook

Given that you're not yet ready to dethrone the experts, grab a pencil and jot down topics about which you could write from multiple angles. Conveying opinion is one thing; providing reasoned, unbiased argument elevates your writing (and authority) to dizzying heights.

Try these for size. What jobs have you held, to date? What are you passionate about outside of work? What specialist knowledge have you trained for/acquired? To which industry sectors could your content add value?

Before launching yourself on the unsuspecting blogosphere, research the different topics you identified in the above exercise. If you're still at a loss, Hubspot published a great article about identifying content topics. Get a leg up there and I'll be back soon with an article talking about coaxing the muse.

Photo credits (both FreeDigitalPhotos[dot]net):
Quill and Inkwell: Simon Howden
Poised Asian Lady: Feelart