What Is Copywriting, Anyway?

What Is Copywriting, and Why Should You Care?

There’s kind of a funny problem with copywriters.

Our job is to communicate as clearly possible, but it’s not clear to everyone what we actually do.

“I’m a copywriter.”

“So, you… create copyrights?”

Hmm, no, I’m not a copyright lawyer. Let’s try again.

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh, have you written anything I’ve read? I’ve always wanted to write a novel.”

“I write website copy for small businesses.”

“…well, I’m sure you could write a novel if you wanted to.”

Besides, business owners outside industries like publishing and marketing don’t always use the term “copy.”  No wonder people get confused.

Summary: What is copywriting? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Copywriters research and write sales copy that’s intended to move someone toward a desired action.

Okay, so what IS copywriting?

Writing! The word part!

“Copy” is used across different industries in different ways—a book publisher, a newspaper reporter, or an advertising executive might be talking about slightly different aspects of the written word when they use the term.


For small business owners, these distinctions aren’t so important. Think of copy as the messaging that will help you move product or fill your dance card.

The words in your Facebook ads.

The words on your sales page.

Your tagline.

All the written words you put out into the world to persuade people to exchange their hard-earned money for your goods and/or services.

The words you write to convince people to buy.

What about content, then?

Your blog posts or Instagram posts? That’s considered content. You might hire a writer to write that, or get a content marketer on board. Or do it yourself. (But then you actually have to do it.)

Think of it this way:

Content and copy go hand in hand. They don’t need to be written by the same person, but they should be informed by the same marketing plan.

What’s content marketing, in that case?

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”—Content Marketing Institute

In plain speak:

That’s a plan to create content (blog posts, social media, email newsletters, etc.) that drives customers to you, and keeps them engaged. All in a strategic way that ends with you diving into a pool of money, Uncle Scrooge-style.

While you probably need to whip up fresh content on a regular basis, copy might be somewhat static—you can keep your website “About” page the same for years with no detriment to your sales.

What the heck do copywriters do once you hire them, anyway?

We don’t just write.

Well, okay, if you want to split hairs, we write. We make words appear on the page. That’s what’s hard for most people, and it’s what we wake up wanting to do.

But we can’t pull it all out of thin air, friends! Copywriting involves a LOT of information-gathering, a little journalism, a good dash of marketing, and a large glug of interviewing, messaging, and massaging. After you sign a contract with your writer, they’ll want to download your brain once or twice. It’s likely that they’ll want to talk to other stakeholders as well, like your customers, constituents, or team members.


Break it break it down

Writing sales copy for the web means:

  • Keeping up with online marketing and content marketing strategies
  • Nurturing a productive relationship with the client
  • Lots of customer research. (Lots.)
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Writing and editing copy that helps the business reach its goals
  • Delivering clean (proofread) copy

It sometimes means:

  • Testing headlines
  • A/B testing
  • SEO writing
  • Making suggestions for design

It does not mean:

  • Coming up with all the ideas
  • Steamrolling business owners into a direction they’re not comfortable with
  • Playing fast and loose with deadlines because of “creativity”
  • Manipulating readers into spending money
More Questions?

Now, to answer a couple of questions I got from social media:

“What is copywriting, and how does it apply to being an entrepreneur and in biz?”

If your copy is good, you will sell more. If it’s bad, you’ll lose customers.

There’s anecdotal evidence of a change of copy increasing sales 19.5x. Not percent. Almost 20 TIMES. That’s an extreme case.

“What is an expected range of costs I would expect to pay for copywriting? Say for a website?”

By FAR, the most common way to charge is by project. It’s the best deal for the writer and for you as the business owner—with no surprises when the bill comes.

As a general rule, most writers charge $3000+ for a basic 5-page site.

Some charge tens of thousands of dollars for sales pages. If they’ve gotten to that point, it’s because they have a history of being worth it. Or they’re just cocky, so do your due diligence, please.

If someone is quoting you $20 an hour, run! (I don’t know anyone who can freelance on $20 an hour, but that’s a different blog post.)

Close up of Kelley with "hi" in speech bubble

As always, feel free to reach out with any other questions: hello@kelleygardiner.com