The first copywriters were hired in the 1800s. Their job? To make products and brand appealing to consumers. Advertisements were mostly in newspapers and magazines, but copywriters were not journalists. While business writers tackled the best way to describe laundry powder and night creams, the real writers tackled thathard-hitting stories with their “integrity” intact. The divide between copywriting and journalism couldn’t have been any more defined if there’d been a red line painted down the center of the newsroom.
Since then, the role of the copywriter has changed dramatically, and it continues to evolve at breakneck pace. The internet has fueled the world’s lust for content … more and more and more content to entertain, inform and persuade. Brands are becoming publishers, devoting an increasing amount of resources to the production of high-quality content. And at the core of their campaign are writers. Copywriters. Who more and more likely are using a journalistic style.
In this piece, I take a look at what it means to be a copywriter now and in the future, and how agencies can leverage the copywriters they have to offer their clients better ROI.
The Beginning of the End of SEO Copywriting
For several years, the word copywriter was often prefixed by the acronym SEO - and this title carried certain connotations. These guys have a bad reputation now, mainly because they are responsible for the vast amount of badly-written, keyword-stuffed 350 word articles from third-world countries published online today. But in their heyday, keyword-stuffing 350-word articles was how you got ahead.
Google is cracking down on spam content online. First, there was Panda and Penguin, which decimated search rankings on overly-optimised sites (the very term is an oxymoron, but hey!) Now, Hummingbird aims to use location-specific data and search history to further narrow and refine searches, as well as paying attention to every word in a query separately, not as a string of related terms. The result, they hope, is a more useful search engine, one that points you toward the information you’d most like to know.
And what has this meant for copywriters? Well, good things - depending on how you look at it. There are no short-cuts anymore. You can’t write a spammy, generic, keyword-stuffed article, put it through an article spinner to create 100 different articles from the same text, and submit it to directories, blogs and press release engines and expect a positive result. In fact, this type of practice is likely to earn your site a blacklisting from Google.
What search engines want is unique, high-quality content. Which is funny, because that’s exactly what PEOPLE are looking for, too. How about that? Include some keyword phrases in there, and the modern copywriter is suddenly a highly-skilled SEO copywriter.
The Skillset of the Modern Copywriter
The modern copywriter has come a long way since the newspaper days. Now, a copywriter needs to not only create stand-out copy, but he/she needs to understand how that copy should be presented and distributed. Copy is not simply presented as text anymore - you may be writing headlines for an advert, a script for a YouTube video, a tutorial to accompany a Pinterest image, or captions on an iPad game. The most successful copywriters will work alongside designers, branding experts, and social media managers to produce quality content in a variety of formats.
The modern copywriter is just as likely to come from a journalism background as a marketing background. As journalism majors leave university and discover they are now fighting against thousands of other graduates for in the four entry-level positions at the only traditional media outlets still soldiering on, they turn to other avenues to support themselves. And many of the skills journalists cultivate are a huge asset in marketing - the ability to sniff out a story, to interview subjects, to write to deadline, to create interesting, intriguing pieces that get the reader hooked.
The modern copywriter is also more than likely a brand unto themselves. Companies are often looking to be associated with an established writer (especially online). If a copywriter has a big Twitter following, a lot of Google+ authority, or a popular blog, they can play an active role in getting the word out about new content. In order to accumulate such an audience, more writers choose to specialise in a particular subject or industry - so they are seen as an expert who provides valuable content. Companies want to be associated with a content producer who has clout in their field.
How Can Agencies Leverage Their Writers?
Despite all of the above, the copywriter is often a secondary consideration for agencies, especially those who work in visual formats. Many agencies are underestimating the role a quality writer can play in every facet of a campaign, from the wording of PPC ads to the script of a video.
However, with more clients looking for ongoing content solutions, agencies are increasingly aware that they need to become “content studios” - offering monthly updates and constantly refreshing websites and social media with new content to sate the appetite of brand audiences.
So how can an agency use their copywriters to bring in more client work and increase their profile in the expanding world of content-creation?
- Build a Content Portfolio: Plenty of agencies have a strong portfolio in visual treatment, or advertising campaigns, or branding, which makes sense, as visuals are the most eye-catching aspect of an agency’s work. But if you want to demonstrate your agency’s skill as a content producer, you’ll need a portfolio of examples clients can peruse. Show off your content - and not just text either, but your social media, video and visual content - in a carefully-targeted content portfolio.
- Upskill Your Copywriters: Make your copywriters even more of an asset by upskilling them - perhaps they can take a journalism course, or learn more about social media or video. Why not find out from them what areas of interest they’d like to pursue? The more your copywriters understand content technology, the better they can serve your clients.
- Create Content Packages: If you want to attract companies who might be considering hiring their own in-house team, you need to offer something competitive. Don’t just tack “content writing” or “content production” on the end of a laundry-list of services, create a package you can showcase on your website and in networking situations to demonstrate your expertise in this area.
- Use Copywriters in Strategy: A huge mistake many agencies make is not bringing copywriters in at the beginning of strategising for a campaign. A copywriter has a lot of insight into the types of content that are popular, and can be an invaluable member of a brainstorming team. There’s a great article on KISSMetrics that discusses the issue of companies creating industry trends and leadership profiles, when this isn’t really what people want to read. Bringing in copywriters early on can help prevent a campaign fizzing out in the content stage because of a lack of original ideas.
The world of content and copy has changed dramatically since the first newspaper advert appeared in the 1800s. Now, the copywriter is in the centre of the content revolution, producing content for an increasing number of different media types, and by becoming their own brands copywriters are creating their own circles of influence within particular industries. Perhaps it’s time your agency took a closer look at your writing team, and at how you can leverage their skills to bring in more clients and improve the ROI of your campaigns.