What does a copywriter do? Your content writing guide

What does a copywriter do? Your content writing guide [2023]

Posted by Clare Dodd
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Content is the answer to a question, the key to a puzzle, the information station on the road to progress. More than this, content is the backbone of inbound marketing for the B2B world.

‘Okay’, I hear you say, ‘But why is content so important? And why should anyone pay a copywriter to write it?’

Today, we’ll tell you exactly what a copywriter does, and everything you need to know about content marketing for B2B businesses.

In the time since this article was originally published, we have split this content between several articles, so if you’d like to read our original comprehensive guide altogether, download it using this form:

What does a copywriter do?

A copywriter is someone who writes for the internet. They create informative content for businesses that is designed to guide the reader’s own research.

Put simply, people and businesses use content to educate and entertain themselves, and to connect with products and services. The people responsible for this content are likely to be marketing copywriters. It’s no small task, trust us.

There we go. Sorted. Or is it…

To those of us in the game, the following exchange will be all too familiar:

So, what do you do?
Oh, I'm a marketing copywriter. For example, I write for B2B tech companies.
Oh wow, great...
Twenty minutes after the conversation has moved on...
Sorry, can I just ask - I mean, what is it that you actually do? I mean what does your job actually involve?

To avoid such exchanges in the future, this guide is aimed at all sorts of people. It's for those totally out of the know; it's for those looking to get into the know, and it's for those in the marketing profession who think they know, but probably make quite a few false assumptions. It’s content 101. It’s copywriting in a nutshell. It’s for B2B businesses and copywriters and marketers and people who staggered onto this page someway, somehow. Welcome.

Misconceptions and misnomers

First things first, let's address a few misconceptions:

  • Not all copywriters are advertising copywriters. This in itself causes some confusion, as the latter is the more famous (especially after the phenomenon that was Mad Men).
  • Medical copywriters have their own special niche, which we don't pretend to know about or comment on here. Technical copywriting can (often) also be put in this box.
  • Copywriting has nothing to do with copyright law.

Ironically, one of the big problems in communicating what copywriters do is a lack of clarity around the definition of the word itself. Turns out, like a doctor that smokes, copywriters aren't very good at communicating the nuances of their role.

Jesse Forrest, for example, distinguishes between copywriters, who write to get people to take an action, and content writers, who write to inform. But who’s ever heard of a content writer? Here at Articulate, we do both of those things, so are we just plain old ‘writers’?

No. Because the minute you say 'I'm a writer' people think of novels, poems and perhaps even journalistic articles. It's a linguistic minefield.

We rather like Iain Broome's answer:

To be a copywriter is beyond definition, but it’s fair to say that one thing binds us together: we all work with words on a daily basis.

So, what DOES a copywriter do?

Well, to name a few things, we:

  • Write (obviously)
  • Research
  • Interview
  • Edit
  • Proofread
  • Manage projects
  • Source images
  • Plan and implement marketing campaigns
  • Measure the wider impact of our work

But, there can be a whole lot more to a marketing copywriter’s role, such as SEO strategising, social media planning and even making videos. A marketing copywriter is a sort of dual role. A copywriter creates content; a marketer takes content and uses it as a tool to generate site traffic, and, hopefully, leads. Meaning, potential customers who have provided some of their information to the business, such as an email address.

What's important to understand is that, while words are the main output of a copywriter, writing isn't necessarily what we spend most of our time doing. We have to do a lot of research and thinking, tweaking and formatting, and a bunch of other seemingly peripheral tasks. And, a marketing copywriter will do a whole lot more on top of that.

In fact, we often say here at Articulate that for a writing project you should spend half your time researching, a third editing and only a sixth actually writing. Despite what some people think, copywriting is a lot more than just 'wordsmithing'.

What do copywriters write?

If you want to talk nitty-gritty, the type of things we write include:

  • Blog posts. These can range from around 400 to 1500 words. They're usually a bit more informal or opinionated, but it varies from client to client.
  • **White papers.**Not like the government ones though. White papers tend to be 1,500-2,500 words and are informative, educational documents that explain the origins of a problem and how it might be solved. Often that solution will be linked to what the client sells, but the majority of the white paper will be objective and useful. These tend to be gated behind a form, and are used for lead-capture.
  • Emails. Email campaigns are there to pique interest, raise awareness and prompt an action. They have to be short, enticing and informative in order to help nurture leads into customers.
  • Social media posts. Those limited-character tweets and witty Facebook updates don't write themselves, you know. Social media requires copywriting, too.
  • Case studies. These are short articles that explain how a company helped its customers. Case studies often have a formulaic structure, but a good copywriter can find the story inside it.
  • Industry reports. Sometimes we have to get a bit heavy and write some hardcore reports. These are based on real research that expands upon a certain issue, industry or trend.
  • Website copy. Writing for the web comes with its own set of rules and guiding principles: it's a whole other skill set, but one many copywriters have up their sleeve.

Of course, aside from all that copywriting magic and mystery, we also do a bunch of job stuff that everyone else does: admin, management, emails, training, client wrangling and scrolling through Instagram when you're, ahem, between deadlines…

Who do we 'copywrite' for?

Unlike fiction writers or journalists, copywriters usually write with an agenda: the client's agenda and, in turn, their customer’s needs. It might be to promote a product, but it might also be to educate an audience or demonstrate expertise.

Written content is used in all sorts of ways by companies, especially with the advent of inbound marketing, which is all about talking to and about customers, rather than pushing a product or service.

This means copywriters have to be versatile, quick learners and have very little ego. You'll rarely recognise the name of a copywriter - our work usually goes out under the client's name. We also have to make edits that not only keep the client's marketing department happy but their legal, sales and c-suite happy, too.

We copywriters care about the quality of our work, but we certainly can't be precious about it.

A copywriter's voice

A copywriter will be whoever you want them to be.

What we really mean is that, while every copywriter certainly has their own voice, it is secondary to that of the client. We must adapt our writing style and tone depending on who we are speaking as and who we are speaking to.

There are certain golden writing rules that particular copywriters or agencies will try to adhere to - we have an Articulate writer's guide, for example - but if the client has their own, that comes first.

And while not every client has a tone-of-voice document, they all have a tone of voice. Write something that doesn't sound like it, and they'll soon pull you up and call for edits.

Copywriters have to ask questions and delve into existing collateral to immerse themselves in the voice of the client to write the right project.

The audience: buyer personas

Remarkable writing that resonates with your buyer personas is the heart of the content that gets found.

According to Hubspot:

‘A  buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.’

Having a persona means you have an idea of the audience you are speaking to. This will influence the tone you present and the context of the content itself. When writing a blog, imagine you are sitting in front of someone in a café, telling them some information that you feel would help them. How would you phrase things? How would you keep them engaged in the conversation?

As much as you might love your product or service and revel in all the gory details, your customers – that cynical bunch – want to know how it benefits them. They want quality advice and insight, not bigger, better and stronger.

How to get started copywriting for business blogs

Writing is a muscle that professional copywriters exercise every day. As a result, they know every trick in the book to help polish up your copy and use it to increase website conversions, boost click-through rates, and, ultimately, drive up sales.

They know to keep it short and sweet, conversational and direct, and they avoid hype, hyperbole and spin like the plague.

So, how do you create B2B content like a professional copywriter? Well, at Articulate Marketing, when we start working with a client, we will go through the following steps. Because we do so much more than make content, this is only part of the overall process. It really, really isn’t ‘just writing blogs’. Here are some of the steps involved in writing content for businesses:

  • Do a market survey and research competitors
  • Do an SEO audit and keyword research
  • Create one or more buyer personas
  • Read and emulate the tone of voice (ToV) of the business
  • Use these learnings to build content campaigns. A campaign will include:
    • A piece of premium content, like a white paper or checklist, that will be placed behind a form on a landing page
    • Supporting blogs or infographics, with backlinks to the pillar page, and with embedded calls-to-action (CTAs) leading to the landing page
    • Pillar page content on an iterative basis (such as this one on SEO for tech)
    • Social media and email content
  • Edit content in a pair-writing process, which can go back and forth a few times
  • If a client is involved, send the work to the client for review
  • Campaign launch
  • Tea break
  • Campaign analysis
  • Rework content in future

That’s the process. But, to get to the heart of creating content, we need to talk about the actual writing steps and best practices. Let’s move on to how to come up with ideas, which is the starting point for any content campaign plan.

Where do ideas come from?

We’ve all been there. When it comes to conjuring up blog topic ideas, it can feel like there’s nothing new under the sun. Titles don’t just come out of nowhere, though. There are plenty of resources to lean on.

In the comforting words of French author André Gide,

‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’

Remember what we’ve said about personas. You’re not writing for you; you’re writing for your personas, so let them guide you to the sort of topics you should write about. If you rely solely on what interests you, your blog will drift away from the core of your, or your client’s, brand. Ultimately, this could alienate potential leads.

But, delve into each persona and their keywords, pain points, influencers, communities and reading material, and you can’t go wrong. If they’re CEOs, they may visit ceo.com, and if they’re IT managers, maybe they’ll be more inclined to read Forbes.

Just because you or the blogosphere have written on a topic before, it doesn’t mean that you can’t touch the subject ever again. Originality means more than simply saying something for the first time; you can also achieve it by setting the old tune to a different rhythm. Take a popular topic from another blogger and find a new angle, or turn your own two thousand-word ‘Ultimate guide to content marketing’ into a 500-word listicle.

The blog topic bank

If you're still at a loss, it's time to make a withdrawal from the blog bank.

Get used to noting down ideas whenever and wherever you have them, as well as keeping a list of potential blog topics that’s open to all of your content creators. Then, when it comes to ideation time, you'll have a veritable war chest to play with – just unearth one of your banked topics, dust it off and get writing.

Do keyword research

Use a tool like Moz’s keyword explorer or AnswerthePublic to find out what people are searching for around a given topic. You might want to write about ‘leadership in tech’, but a bit of SEO-led research can help to narrow your topic. For instance, you might discover that lots of people want to know about the more specific topic of ‘training new IT managers’.

Writing a blog that people will click on is a  balancing act. Not only do you need to find a topic or an angle that speaks to the reader, but also one that speaks to search engines and search habits.

For example, here is a persona-focused, ‘click-bait’ style title on the topic of why you need cloud backup for your business:

  • ‘Calling all CEOs: Why your business is five minutes away from doomsday’

Yes, it has a clear audience (CEOs), and yes, it’s intriguing. But it doesn’t tell us anything about the topic. As a result,  it won’t rank well on search engines, and it just won’t get found.

Alternatively, you could go for a purely functional title, like:

  • ‘X reasons you need cloud backup for your business’

This works because it’s clear what the topic of the blog is about, and who it’s for. But it does lack a bit of flair. Let’s try one more time:

  • ‘Avoid a business bust-up: X reasons to choose cloud backup’

An SEO-friendly title with a persona-focused, research-driven topic, will set your blog up for success.

How to turn ideas into titles

1. Promise and deliver

Avoid ‘click-bait’ - a.k.a. lies, lies and more lies. These types of titles could create more traffic, but people don't like being tricked. Promise your audience something exciting or useful – learning a new skill in five minutes, for example – and then deliver on that promise in the post.

2. Numbers and lists

Everyone loves a numbered list-type post; you know what to expect and you know it’ll be pithy. Multiples of five are the standard, but don't be afraid to go unusual: 8, 13, 37. Also, use digits rather than words – ‘15 ways to…’ is better than ‘Fifteen ways to…’

3. Trigger words

Jeff Goins suggests using trigger words like, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’. 'Why' and 'how' are particularly useful – ‘Why you shouldn’t…’ and ‘How to…’ etc.

4. Teach

Everyone’s eager to get smart so promise to teach them something. Buffer suggests being more specific than just ‘How to…’. Use phrases like ‘Introduction to…’, ‘Beginner’s guide to…’, ‘DIY’ and ‘…in 5 minutes’.

5. Write like a human

You’ll be read by them, after all. Don’t use jargon, excessive punctuation, acronyms (unless obvious, like NATO or the BBC) or overly long headlines.

6. Don't be too clever

Your headlines should be snappy, specific and informative. Don’t be too elusive, vague or ‘witty’ or you’ll give people a reason not to click.

7. A little more action

Use strong, active words and avoid the passive voice. Verbs and adverbs entice more clicks than adjectives and nouns.

10 copywriting tips for B2B companies

Whether you’re a seasoned copywriter, new to the job, or someone who’s just trying to improve their business’s website copy to get those clients in through the door, why not take some advice from the experts? Here are ten tips to instantly improve your online content.

  1. Prioritise information.  It’s widely known that humans are about as useful as goldfish: we only have a few seconds’ attention span before we want to click on. So, position your main point at the beginning of your content or your audience may never get to it.
  2. Highlight important information. Make keywords and phrases noticeable by using bold text. Ensure your headings stand out. Emphasis helps readers decide if you are giving them what they want, and it helps them scan.
  3. Remove extra words. You could say: ‘Our program coordinates services to create a continuum of progress that will empower small business owners.’ Better to say: ‘Our program gives power to small business owners.’
  4. Speak plainly and remove jargon. You might write: ‘The company has commenced a period of formal consultation on its proposals to establish two new amalgamated branches.’ Consider saying: ‘The company is considering the proposal for opening two combined stores.’
  5. Shorten paragraphs and add white space. Learn how writing and design work together. Make sure you have one paragraph per idea and a proportional balance of text and images. The design of each page deserves extra thought. You want eye-catching, scannable content.
  6. Give readers quality and quantity. Don’t duplicate words to build up your content. Readers abandon ship if their time is being wasted. If you write an article on ‘How to lay the culture foundation for digital transformation,’ your article a couple of weeks later on ‘How to avoid culture pitfalls when implementing cloud technology’ must contain new information.
  7. Make peace with SEO. You want to stock your website and blog with great keywords for search engines. That said, you want to avoid SEO mistakes so make a strong SEO plan. Make readers a priority.
  8. Replace descriptions with images where you can. Say your small business offers storage solutions. Don’t describe how you organise items on shelves and in boxes (that makes for pretty dull reading). Replace those words with a before and after photo of your work.
  9. Check grammar again. It might seem like common sense, but it’s important to check your copy again. Misspelt words and typos change the perception a customer has of your business. So do other writing mistakes.
  10. Make titles honest. Clickbait isn’t what you want to go for. In fact, the easiest way to lose a customer’s attention is to fail to deliver on a promise. Make sure the content matches your title on each page.

Don’t let your content be anything less than outstanding. These ten simple improvements enhance the experience of your readers. But, remember however many clicks your page gets, what really matters is the number of people who actually stay there. As a copywriter, it’s your job to make content that resonates with your audience. In other words, to write content that gets read.

[This post was originally written by Clare Dodd, but has since been edited by Maddy Leslie in 2019 and revised and updated in 2023.]

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