What I learned about copywriting in 2012



While writing 100,000 words of copy* last year, and working on web content projects large and small, I learned a few things. Here’s a short summary:

– Preparation is key.

– Structure is vital.

– Creativity must not be left behind.


Preparation is key

On most projects, I decide how they begin. And while my clients often want to see copy immediately, I enforce a process so that we don’t waste time writing copy that’s wrong.

Before writing a single word I insist on defining a brief. This sounds obvious but many clients don’t supply a brief, and I typically meet clients in person to establish their requirements. You can easily have a pseudo-brief that exists in a scattering of emails, a blur of conversations and a voicemail addendum. It takes a little time to consolidate all these notes and details into a single brief, but once it’s complete you can be certain that everyone is expecting the same results from the project.

Once the brief is established I like to conduct research. This could be as quick as me noodling about on the Internet, or as comprehensive as a series of stakeholder interviews, as I did in December for the Kier Group. However involved the research, it’s important to do the necessary groundwork.

Following this, it’s time to work on structure.


Structure is vital

Writing web copy is a creative process, but it’s one that benefits from having a structure. And by structure I mean the shape of the content as well as the organisation of the project.

Careful and thoughtful planning are essential on larger web content projects. It’s easy to dive in and start writing anything that needs words, but jumping in without establishing a structure can lead to problems later on.

Before writing anything I work with the client to establish:

1.Content priorities and roadblocks. What content should we work on first? What content must wait?

2. Content sources. Where is information coming from? What information will be challenging to find?

3. Content flow. How will we deliver completed copy? And how will copy be sent back for revisions?

4. Content shape. What should the pages look like? Where will the copy sit, and what lies alongside it?

5. Content objectives. What should the copy achieve?


Creativity must live!

All this planning and preparing can kill the spontaneity and energy that usually invigorates the creative process. By preparing the crap out of your project, you can end up feeling as though everything is decided, as though the words have been written, you just haven’t typed them out yet.

To retain life and energy in copy I like to take breaks from staring at a monitor and do something else for a while. It seems as though a change of stimulus can be enough to reactivate those creative brain cells. That, or BOOZE.

 *number may or may not be accurate.

How to give your copywriter feedback

You want great results from your copywriter, right? Of course you do. So you need to get involved. It’s highly unlikely that your copywriter will get everything right without a little help from you, the client.

Your copywriter has to get lots of things right. They have to:

  • Adopt a tone and style suitable for your brand
  • Appeal to your audiences
  • Use language and jargon appropriate for your industry/profession
  • Include all the key facts and important details
  • Highlight your key messages
  • Lead readers on a journey and encourage them to take action
  • Write copy that you will like too

Give better feedback, get better copy

If you can give your copywriter clear feedback, they will be able to respond to your suggestions and improve your copy.

So how can you give good feedback?

1: Be specific

Tell your copywriter precisely what you do like, and what you don’t like.

Instead of saying, “the copy just isn’t on brand”,

say: “the word ‘guff’ isn’t appropriate for our brand'”.

If you give your copywriter feedback verbally, they may not understand precisely which bits of the copy need to be changed. You can easily waste your time by getting your copywriter to change bits of the copy that you like, while they ignore the bits you don’t like. So be specific.

Try highlighting sentences or phrases in the document, and giving an explanation of why those elements need more work.


2: Offer suggestions

If you have a very specific idea of what you want, why not try writing it down? You might struggle to write the copy you’re imagining, but your attempt will probably show the way for your copywriter.

Or if you’ve seen copy that you like (perhaps on a competitor’s site), why not provide that as an example? Even better, highlight words and phrases in the competitor’s copy, and explain why you like them.


3: Consolidate your feedback

Give your copywriter one batch of feedback. You might have multiple stakeholders with differing views on the copy, but, of course, you don’t want to give your copywriter multiple, conflicting views. Settle any disagreements you have in your organisation before responding to your copywriter.


4: Edit, comment and Track Changes

Your copywriter is a writer, just like you. Sure, they spend more time writing than you do, but you still have the tools to edit and comment on the document your copywriter has provided.

Turn on Track Changes and start changing the words you don’t like, and adding anything that you feel is missing. Use the commenting feature to add questions or to discuss anything you’re not sure about. Treat the copywriting process as collaborative, because you know your business. We just know how to write.


5: Keep an open mind

Choose a copywriter who you can trust. Pick someone whose work you admire. And then be prepared to consider their recommendations. Question anything that you’re not sure about, and challenge everything you don’t like or agree with, but do consider (with an open mind) your copywriter’s recommendations.



A change of scene

Lulworth Cove

From 25 February 2013 I’ll be freelancing from Dorset! More specifically, I am moving to Poole, though I’ll be very near Bournemouth too.

Why the move?

Well, change is good! After living in or near Brighton & Hove for the past 20 years, the prospect of new vistas, new people and new opportunities is thrilling. And while I will miss Brighton, I’m excited about all the new things we can do and see in Dorset.

What about work?

My freelance copywriting work is coming with me. Most of my work is carried out remotely (usually from the Werks in Hove) so moving to Dorset shouldn’t change anything. I’ll still visit clients and friends in Brighton, and there’s a train station just round the corner from the new house – so I can be in London within 2 hours.


I’m incredibly lucky to have started freelancing in Brighton, because there are hundreds of friendly people who have made the experience enjoyable, exciting and profitable.

Thanks to: Premasagar Rose, Michael Bailey, Ellen de Vries, Rosie Sherry, James McCarthy, Jonathan Markwell, Paul Silver, Darren Fell, Nick Carter and all of the other freelancers, programmers and writers who have helped me get started – and carry on!


WriteClub is thriving thanks to the endeavours of Alice Reeves, Helen Keevy and Rob Shepherd in Brighton, and the almighty Al Robertson in London.




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