How do you measure a copywriter?

At some point everybody at Yalantis started calculating their KPIs. Sales would calculate the number of deals they closed per month. Developers would calculate the number of bugs their software produced. Managers would calculate the level of contentment in their client’s feedback.

And I was like: copywriter’s KPIs? Meh. That’s subjective. Like you can’t measure the KPI of a piece of art (well, you can measure by price though), you can’t measure the KPI of a story.

Let’s make it clear: I am not talking about marketing KPIs here. These are clear. After all, a huge part of marketing is math. Your copywriter is only a little guilty of that embarrassing number of leads you got last month. If you’re a marketing manager, you’re the one to blame. Not your copywriter.

As a marketing manager, I have my own KPIs. They are CPL, CPqL and leads. But like all other team leaders in the company, I needed to calculate my copywriters’ KPIs as well. I didn’t know how. And to be honest, I didn’t want to.

But then, my friend, colleague, and business partner Ian said: “I know you hate it, Kate. But you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

And he was right.

We needed to create the space for growth for our copywriters. And we also needed to base our feedback of their performance on something measurable.

We sat down in that empty office space in Kiev on that shitty winter evening, and started thinking about how to measure our copywriters.

KPI: the number of articles

The first KPI we came up with was the number of articles one copywriter writes per month.

I know what you’re thinking. The number of articles says nothing about their quality. But you know what, the number of articles is not the number of characters at least (I’ve seen people done that). You’re right though about quality. It does matter. And we’ll get to it a bit later.

Now let me explain why the number of articles is actually a meaningful metric.

Let’s assume that we’re talking only about the number of high-quality articles. The ones that get published. Let’s also assume that you will never publish a low-quality article. I hope you know the difference between a high-quality story and a crappy one.

To write a high-quality article your writer needs to spend time. The more time they spend the less monthly articles you get. But let me ask you a question. If a copywriter can write a compelling story without spending that much time on it, what does it say about their professional level? One thing — he or she is a good writer. And an excellent researcher, by the way. Because we’re more in the research business than we are in the business of writing stories.

Okay, so what number of articles should your writers write per month? This would depend on the existing pace of your team. You can’t pull out this number out of nowhere and tell your folks this will be their KPI.

To define the numbers, do an easy exercise. Calculate the largest and the smallest monthly number of articles that each member of your team has ever produced. Use this number to come up with your copywriter’s KPI.

For us the numbers look like this:

Surprised? That’s the cruel reality.

You might think writing five articles for an experienced writer is easy. But I wouldn’t say that. I am talking about complex technology topics written by a non-technical person. Also, not all my writers’ time goes on writing. They also do other things for marketing, such as market researches, SMM, and email marketing.

Story Quality Measurement report

Every marketer knows “the more you tell, the more you sell.” Especially since we’re talking about content marketing here. The more articles you publish, the more connections with your target audience you can generate.

But here comes the nitty-gritty part of copywriting — the ability of content to stimulate a desired action. Poorly written articles don’t have this ability. They aren’t capable of making a great impression, and generating leads for that reason. To tell the truth, terrible writing is a serious credibility killer.

Let’s call high-quality content a compelling story. The second measurement of a copywriter are grades (A, B, C) for their stories. The goal is to make every story a compelling one (or get all As).

What does a compelling story mean?

1. Catchy headline.

Catchy headline grabs people’s attention and pulls them in. What sort of headlines are catchy? Those that make the value clear, are fun, use strong language, and intrigue your audience.

Here are our examples of catchy headlines:

  • Pastiche: How We Made a Nifty Little Side-Panel App for the Samsung Edge Series
  • Stickers: A Mobile Messaging Lingua Franca or a Powerful Marketing Tool?
  • Hidden Advantages of Cross-Platform Development with React Native
  • 6 Steps to Make Your App Go Gangnam Style

2. Continuity.

A well-structured story is easy to read and skim through. A story needs to be consistent, successive, and logical. But there is no one way to organize text on the page.

We always start with an outline that lists the key points that support one main idea we’re going to write about. The outlines helps plan the flow. With it you know exactly where you’re headed.

The main part of your story is an introduction. This is where your reader either dives in or sails away. The intro sums up the main point you’re trying to make.

There are many ways to make a compelling start. I always recommend Ann Handley’s book “Everybody writes” to all writers. There you can find lots of tips and practical examples on how to write great stories.

3. Clarity and brevity.

Clarity is when a writer gets to the point without a lot of fluff or verbal clutter. In other words, when you can understand what the writer is trying to say.

Here is an example of a sentence I found on the internet that suffers from verbal clutter and a lack of clarity:

"The same happens with digital products: when we open the website that downloads the history of our interactions with it in split seconds, or set the application connecting us with friends and saving our data on any device, when we do simple everyday operations like sending emails or downloading files, most of us don’t know that those interactions are possible due to back-end development which establishes the foundation for effective front-end and enables steady functionality of websites and applications.

Here is how I would rewrite it:

"Let’s imagine you want to build a house. Exterior design. Interior design. The foundation. What comes up in your mind first? I bet not the foundation. Same with website development. Customers rarely come in contact with those “behind the scene” operations. We call these operations back-end. It’s the back-end’s job to make your selfies show up on your profile, send your messages to your friends, and update your Facebook feed. Back-end is a server-side application that serves the front-end."

If you don’t agree that the rewritten version is better, here is what my writing app Hemingway thinks:

For technical staff that seems hard to explain, you can always use metaphors and similes. They don’t only clarify the idea, but also make your writing more visual.

Back in the 19th century Anton Chekhov told us how important visual writing is:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

4. Connection.

A story needs to connect with a reader on the emotional level. This is hard to explain. Here is how I can put it: when you can feel that the writer actually cares.

To create a connection in the story, imagine a person who is going to read your article. Then write directly to that person. Use “you” as opposed to “they” or “people.” Put your reader in the story right up front and talk about issues that matter to them.

5. Timeliness.

People don’t read stories that aren’t relevant to them. A story needs to talk about problems that people are currently searching the answers to. Your story should also feature unique ideas. It doesn’t make any sense writing about topics that thousands of other writers have already discussed.

Here is what the Story Quality Measurement report can look like.

Time to confess.

I’ve never used this quality measurement report to measure the quality of work of my copywriters.

We have a writing culture on our team. Our copywriters are well aware of the above metrics. They care about their language, tone, meaning, structure, grammar, and usage.

If you’re not as lucky, I hope with this measurement guide you can define the quality of your content. And I hope you can make it better.

To end this story, here is what I understood about KPIs:

When you start measuring things you love, it means your hobby has turned into a job. And your passion into pragmatism.

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