“You must be a good writer.”
This is what I often hear when I tell people I’m a copywriter (excepting the folks who think I mean “copyright lawyer”, lol). And while my agility with the written word is 1000% what led me to copywriting as a business, it’s not actually what I think makes me good at my job.
I’ve written about this before, but you don’t actually have to be a good writer to be a fantastic copywriter. Similarly, you can be a great writer but still struggle with copywriting.
Instead, it’s these three skills (that don’t involve writing) that lead to results for my clients:
- Interviewing + analysis skills
- Website strategy & UX skills
- SEO skills
These aren’t skills that every copywriter has. (Some do — not discounting my fellow triple-threat website copywriters out there!)
Let’s take a look at why these three skills lead to results and why you need more than just a “good writer” to tackle your website copywriting projects.
Interviewing + analysis skills
For every done-for-you website copywriting project, I interview the past clients of my clients. When I share that this is a non-negotiable part of the process, clients are either excited and impressed…. Or wary about asking for a favor from their busy past customers.
But what I always outline for the wary folks is this: Without this step, I’d be guessing about what messages to write into your website. You may tell me that you think your clients hired you for XYZ reasons…. But your most valuable sales tool (your website) is not the place to be guessing or making assumptions. Hence, the interviews, where I ask your clients directly about why they hired you (and etc).
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten really good at conducting these client interviews. I know what questions to ask, and how to ask them. I know how to tune in and listen well for what someone is really saying — and ask powerful follow-up questions to get into juicy specifics.
The folks I interview for my clients often open up to me (something that’s impossible to do with an out-of-touch interviewer or with a written survey). One of my clients (a coach) even wrote me this email because one of the interviewees shared how extensive and emotional the interview got:
But my work doesn’t end when the interview ends. In order to take this information and make it useful for my writing and strategy process, I analyze the contents of each interview through a process called interview mining.
I meticulously comb through the transcripts of each interview and fill out a spreadsheet with the content. Then, I carefully categorize each quote into a different category (like “pain point,” or “unique value proposition”). Finally, I look for patterns in each category to arrive at a detailed list of common themes in what the interviewees have said — in their own words.
This process takes hours, but it’s so, so worth it. Because I’m never, ever making up what I “think” website visitors need to read to take action. I know.
Website strategy & UX skills
Trying to separate copywriting from design is insane.
We don’t interact with websites the way we interact with novels. That is, we don’t read every word in a neat order the way they appear on a website page (except maybe a particularly engrossing blog post). No, our eyes move around, scanning the screen and latching on to the emphasized areas.
This means that you cannot write website copy into a blank Google doc without any concept of how the words will appear in the layout of the live website. Well, you can (I’ve seen people do this), but it makes it hard to write effective website copy, and it makes it nearly impossible for business owners to make effective edits.
If you write into a blank doc, no one has any idea what it will look like on the site. So, the only thing you can really absorb is the naked meaning of the words, like you would with a novel. Which, as I said above, is not how readers will interact with the content.
This is why I’ve learned everything I can about website strategy & UX (and am still learning). I use it to build layouts and a website strategy for my clients’ sites that serve the ultimate messaging goal: Take readers from a first impression to taking action.
Then, I fill in the layouts as I go with the copy itself. I’m anticipating how readers will interact with the website content and creating messaging that ensures they won’t miss the main points. This also allows my clients to visualize the website pages, so they can make appropriate changes.
My layouts aren’t beautiful by any means (that’s your designer’s zone of genius), but they’re crucial.
The home page for one of my edit & audit clients, Susan Drumm, is a simple example of how my layout translates into the fully designed site:
I once heard Kate Toon (of the respected Recipe for SEO Success course) say something like “If you’re writing for the web and you don’t know SEO, I’m not sure you are writing for the web.”
And I agree.
SEO copywriting isn’t about technical tricks. It’s about understanding how the intended reader will arrive at and interact with your content.
Not every business needs to invest in ranking on Google, per se. Some businesses have marketing machines that are working so well that they don’t need organic traffic from Google. Others are in an industry where their potential clients probably aren’t Googling for their type of service. Others need more clients ASAP, so a long-term marketing strategy like SEO isn’t ideal right now.
But if I didn’t understand SEO really well, I wouldn’t be able to advise my clients on this type of thing. Most business owners have to rely on their website professionals (namely, their designer and copywriter) to inform them about SEO — because it’s kind of a dense topic with lots of misinformation out there.
Of course, for the businesses where it does make sense to invest in ranking on Google, it’s really important that your copywriter has SEO know-how. So much of your ranking potential (and what happens after you rank) relies on the content on your site. Is it optimized for a specific type of searcher? Is it, well, readable? Does it drive conversions (because otherwise, why the hell would you want to rank in the first place)? Does it differentiate you effectively from the other Google search results?
SEO isn’t a silver bullet for online business success (though once the results start rolling in — it’s awesome). But to me, it feels irresponsible to be writing website content without SEO knowledge.
View your website messaging as it fits into the whole website & marketing picture
Effective website copywriting isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s not just words that “sound good” or match your personality, cleverly arranged in a pretty website design.
Effective website copywriting is all about understanding….
- how your website fits into your marketing strategy as a whole
- who’s likely to be visiting the site (and why)
- what other websites readers may be visiting as they make their decision
- how readers should ideally flow through your site to get the main message (and what that message should be)
- what action we want readers to take to get them closer to becoming paying clients (if they’re a good fit)
My “triple-threat” approach considers website messaging as a crucial and not-separate part of my clients’ websites. And that is a pretty good summary of how I get results.