Do you really need a copywriter? You already know this but your website will be one of the most important marketing tools you’ll ever have. However, most people think that they can just launch a site and get new customers. Ummm not true. There are a few things that need to be done before a site can start generating new business.

The first one is obviously getting the site designed and developed and the second is getting the site populated with content i.e. writing the words that will speak to your customers.

In this blog post, I’ll share with you the pros and cons of hiring a copywriter, what’s involved in the copywriting process and the 10 ‘interview’ questions to ask a copywriter to see whether he or she would be a great fit.

How to create a great first impression

When you land on a website, the first thing you do is form an impression of that company. It takes about three seconds for this impression to form.

If you don’t give them compelling reasons to stick around in those first three seconds, they’ll click out and on to your competitor’s site in the blink of an eye. The first impression is crucial.

How is this first impression created? Simple. It’s based on two things.

    1. The look of the site – the colours, the font, the feel and the design of the website. If the site looks messy, is difficult to navigate or hard to read, it’s unlikely to convert visitors into paying customers.
    2. The words you use on the site – The words, or ‘copy’, as we call it, are critical to taking your prospect on the ‘journey’ as to why they should buy your product or service. The words you use also determine how well you rank on Google and other search engines so it’s critical you use the right words that sell you in the right way.

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The pros and cons of using a professional copywriter

If you can write the words yourself, and if you’re a great writer already, that’s a cost-effective way to go. But if you’re not a great writer, or you simply don’t have the time and resources, there are a few drawbacks to doing it yourself:

    1. Do you have the time to write the words yourself? It takes time to write good copy and if you don’t have the time to do it, your website will be delayed. For every day your website is not up, you’re losing business.
    2. Do you have the skill to write persuasive copy? Copywriting is both an art and a science and takes years to learn. The words you use will directly influence people’s decision to buy from you. Sure, there’s a cost to hiring a professional copywriter but (depending on the value of your service) just one or two new customers could pay for the entire copywriting job. Surely it’s worth investing a few dollars to show off your business in the best possible light? After all, you’ve gone to a lot of effort to create a site so it’ll be a shame to lose them just because the words you used weren’t compelling.
    3. Do you understand what is needed to get on page one of Google? It’s a harsh reality but if your business is not on page one, it’s not in business. Did you know that people don’t even look past the 5th search result on page one – so not only do you have to be on page one but you have to be listed in the top 5 results or you’re just not being seen. The words you use on your site (both on the page and behind the scenes i.e. in the meta tags) directly influence where Google ranks you. If you think you can write those words yourself, go for it. If not, you need to hire a professional copywriter who’s expert at search engine optimization (SEO) copywriting.
    4. Are you the best person to promote your business? This may seem like an obvious answer – you’re probably thinking ‘Yes! I know my business better than anyone!’ but that knowledge can also be a negative. Do you know the business so well that you can’t see what the customer sees anymore? Maybe you’ve become jaded and can’t see why people would choose you or alternatively, maybe you think you’re better than you are and no-one has the guts to challenge you on whether that’s true. A professional copywriter is an expert at looking at your business with ‘fresh eyes’ and helping you find the gold nuggets that make your business stand head and shoulders above the rest.

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Do you know what your competitors are doing?

A copywriter will also look at what the competitors are doing and find a way to ensure you are the compelling winner. Customers have a vast array of competitor sites right at their fingertips and can access them with a click so we have to know what they’re up to. Not knowing what your competitors are doing is a no-no for any business.

So how do you get started with a copywriter?

The briefing process is usually the first step for every website. Your website developer will take one when you meet to get a sense of what your website will look and feel like, but as copywriters take one too so that they can find out what message and call to action you want to achieve on your website.

The brief is a series of questions that need to be discussed between you and your copywriter. The better the brief, the better the copy. Some of the questions asked are:

      1. What type of task is needed? ie a 5-page website, 10-page website, a website audit, etc
      2. What is the website about? ie. what is being promoted, what pages do you need and what will each page say
      3. Who is being targeted? ie who is most likely to buy from you?
      4. What aspects of the product or service you’re going to promote? ie what are the most important things you need to say about your product or service
      5. Who are your competitors? ie who else is doing what you’re doing and what will make the reader choose you over them
      6. What are your key selling benefits? ie what will the reader get out of doing business with you? Why should they buy your product or service?

Website writing is a very subjective business which creates room for error. To minimise misunderstandings and miscommunications, a brief is a key document that both the writer and the client use as their touchstone. You will save yourself hours and potentially lots of money if you give your copywriter a comprehensive and detailed brief at the beginning of the writing process.

How does a copywriter find out all this information?

You should have a deep understanding of your own business, but for lots of reasons, this is not always the case which means that your copywriter will use skilful questioning techniques to elicit this information from you (even if you don’t think you know it).

You should consider your copywriter to be a ‘consultant’; someone who not only writes your copy but someone who brings to the table a wealth of ideas, strategies, hints and tips that you may not have considered.

A good copywriter is a good investigator (even if the questions seem irrelevant)

The role of a copywriter is to question, probe and generally quiz you on your views about your business, so be prepared to be asked lots of questions – even if they often seem irrelevant (it’s probably because they want to get a sense of your brand ‘personality’). They are there to find out as much about your business as possible so they can write with authority about your business.

It goes without saying that your copywriter understands the importance of confidentiality and is willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement if you think that’s necessary.

Great copywriting work results from the copywriter being able to challenge you and your thinking so that nothing is taken for granted. Some of the best-copywriting work results when a copywriter simply asks the client “Why is that the case?” or “What makes you think that?” or “Where is the evidence for that?”

It is safe to say that you’ll learn more about your business by sitting down with a copywriter than you will by virtually any other activity.

How will the copywriter learn about your product and services?

All good copywriters get very involved with their client’s product. They are eager to absorb as much information about the product as they can so they can write with authority. To do this, they do some or all of the following:

      • Use the product/service
      • Visit the factory where it’s made
      • Talk to customers about their experiences with the product
      • Watch videos/DVDs and read vast amounts of research material to educate themselves about the product
      • Go on the road with the sales rep to see how the product is sold to customers
      • Wander the aisles of supermarkets to witness how people choose a product

If some of those personal visits are not possible or appropriate, a comprehensive telephone briefing will take place (usually 60-90 minutes).

Top 10 questions to ask a copywriter

There are lots of copywriters out there so be careful who you choose. Don’t use price as the gauge because like anything, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. And don’t use hourly rates to compare – what takes an incompetent writer 10 hours at $80 per hour may take a competent writer 5 hours at $130 per hour. You do the math. Your website is too important to leave in the hands of an inexperienced writer so it pays to do some due diligence before you choose your copywriter:

Here are a few questions and tips to keep in mind when interviewing your copywriter:

      1. Has your copywriter been trained? Training is important but most copywriters are self-taught and do not have an external measuring tool to establish what will work and what won’t. Ask them where they did their training and how long they have been working as a writer.
      2. Ask to see some of their previous work. A strong portfolio is a good indication that they have experience in web writing and know what they are doing.
      3. Do they ask to have a briefing meeting with you? Some copywriters go off half-cocked and start writing without even asking for a briefing meeting. This is a sure sign they do not know what they are doing. Yes, a briefing takes time but like a house or building, all great things are built on a strong foundation – the Creative Brief is that foundation.
      4. Do they ask you what the website needs to achieve? Copywriters need to be good marketers and good marketers always start with the end in mind ie what do you want to achieve? If a copywriter doesn’t ask that of your website, how they can possibly write copy that achieves your objective?
      5. Does your copywriter just take notes or do they challenge your assumptions and assertions? No-one likes to be questioned but all great copywriters will ask the basic questions that often get overlooked – the very questions that often turns a business on its head. Good copywriters ask a lot of questions and help business owners find the answers
      6. Does your copywriter provide more than one round of revisions? Getting copy bang on the first time is hard so it’s important your copywriter includes at least one, or even better, two rounds of revisions with their quote. There’s nothing worse than paying a copywriter extra fees to do revisions when their first draft didn’t even meet the brief.
      7. Does your copywriter give you a fixed quote? Quoting a copywriting job can be very difficult because it’s not clear at the outset how much work is involved. However, that’s the nature of the beast and good copywriters are skilled at estimating how much time is involved and should be able to provide a fixed quote that won’t change unless the brief changes.
      8. Does your copywriter give you a concrete deadline as to when they will deliver their first draft? Getting copy on time is critical because it holds everything up if it’s not ready and that means lost business for you.
      9. Has your copywriter worked with web developers before? Having a copywriter that speaks the same language as web developers is very helpful in getting a website up and running. There is a lot of technical knowledge required to build a website and although copywriters are not IT gurus, it helps if your copywriter knows what meta tags, titles, descriptions, forms etc are because it means everyone is on the same page which ultimately saves you time and money.
      10. Does your copywriter offer SEO copywriting? Writing copy that helps a site get found on Google is vital so it’s worth asking your copywriter if they have this skill. You will pay extra to get this service but it’s well worth it if getting on page one of Google is important to you.

With so many copywriters out there, it can be overwhelming and hard to find an awesome copywriter. Getting a personal recommendation from a business colleague always helps.

What signs have you used to tell if a copywriter is the right choice for your business?