Good marketing needs good copy. If you are an SME hiring a marketer for a small team, you need a good writer. Likewise, if you use a hands-on marketing consultant or freelancer. And if you’re getting outside help from a copywriter, you need to know how to pick the right one.
I’ve long held the belief that marketers should be good copywriters. Even if they aren’t involved in every piece of copy, they should be involved in editing and proofing. I’m always amazed when marketers say they don’t write or edit when so much of our work is written and spoken communication.
There are plenty of stats backing up the need for good copy. This writing guide from gov.uk explains it well: 80% of people preferred sentences written in clear English – and the more complex the issue, the greater that preference.
Copywriting is subjective, but there are rules and best practice to help you to identify a good marketer and copywriter (or flag up who to avoid!)
1. What type of writer do you need?
Copywriting is a specific skill, so seek out a specialist in your industry. A creative writer isn’t the same as a copywriter. A consumer-facing, FMCG copywriter probably won’t be the right person for your small business. You’re hiring a specialist, not an employee, so now is not the time to invest hours of explaining your industry.
Look for a copywriter who knows your marketing channels and works with your industry. They should know and understand your customers’ needs.
Consider what you want them to write. Creating your brand strapline and core messaging is a different skill-set to writing a 2000-word article. Some writers will do everything and some will specialise. Coming up with a two-word product name can take as long as writing an article and will be priced accordingly.
2. What does their own marketing say about them?
Looking at a copywriter’s shop front is an easy way to review their skills. Find out where they market themselves and look at how they write. Then review:
- How much thought and care has gone into it?
- Do you like it?
- Is it well-written and error-free?
- Can you imagine a similar tone of voice on your own website?
- Do they talk about their writing process and ethos?
- Would you trust this person with your marketing?
3. Get to know them
Once you have completed your initial homework, it’s time to have a chat. It’s a good sign if a copywriter asks questions to understand your brand, purpose, audience and tone. Ask them about their writing process. This should include research, data, interviews, multiple drafts, editing and approval.
Dig into their technical knowledge and ask about SEO, content strategy and language. Copywriters don’t necessarily need to be SEO experts, but they should understand SEO and be able to explain how they will optimise your copy.
A small caveat here is not to judge too much on email communication or spoken style. While it’s important to be professional, you might be dealing with an introvert who expresses themselves far better on paper than on the phone. You’re hiring a writer, not a public speaker.
4. Get examples and recommendations
A good copywriter will share previous work with you, which is another excellent opportunity to review their skills. Ideally, they will talk you through the research and writing process and put you in touch with former employers or clients.
Look out for signs of poor writing skills and lazy practice. This is obvious if it’s spelling and grammar mistakes, or the copy doesn’t make sense. Copying and pasting press releases as blogs, not adapting copy for different purposes and audiences or introducing anything as “We are proud/excited/thrilled” shows a lack of creativity.
This is my checklist to assess the quality of copy:
Signs of good copywriting:
- Easy to read and understand
- The subject is clear
- It’s concise and gets to the point
- You feel compelled to read the whole thing
- Explaining or avoiding jargon and acronyms
- Spacing out text with paragraphs, bullet points and images
- Includes a clear call-to-action
- Consistent and clear headings
- Includes links seamlessly in copy
- Uses data, quotes and research as evidence
- Uses the active voice
Signs of poor copywriting:
- x The purpose is not clear
- x It doesn’t make sense
- x Use of random capital letters
- x Lots of long sentences
- x Poorly structured
- x Spelling and grammatical errors
- x Use of ampersand (&) within paragraphs
- x Vague headings which don’t signal the subject
- x The content doesn’t fit the audience, purpose or tone
- x Too much use of the passive voice
- x Introducing links with “Click here…”
These are my favourite proofing and checking tools, and they are a quick way to assess the quality of copy:
I run everything I write through this app. It pinpoints where you can make your writing easier to read and more concise.
This is a plugin which will check your spelling and grammar, but also your tone. Really handy for emails as well as copywriting.
Run your copy through this and it will highlight over-used sayings and clichés.
Talk to me about copywriting
If you need a B2B copywriter we might just be a good fit. I specialise in simplifying complex and technical subjects and my writing style is concise and direct. I know a lot of copywriters with different specialisms, so if I am not the right fit, I can point you in the direction of someone who might be.