Everything You Need to Know About Copywriting, if You’re Not a Copywriter

Sean Sutherland
Published in
4 min readJun 15, 2018


Copywriting is the activity or occupation of writing the text of advertisements or publicity material. That’s the Oxford dictionary definition anyway, but what sort of writers would copywriters be if they couldn’t describe the work in their own words? Here’s what they have to say:

“Copywriters are salespeople whose job is to convince people to buy products.”―Robert W. Bly

“It is far easier to write ten passably effective sonnets, good enough to take in the not too enquiring critic, than one effective advertisement that will take in a few thousand of the uncritical buying public.”―Aldous Huxley

“When copywriters argue with me about some esoteric word they want to use, I say to them, ‘Get on a bus. Go to Iowa. Stay on a farm for a week and talk to the farmer. Come back to New York by train and talk to your fellow passengers in the day-coach. If you still want to use the word, go ahead.”―David Ogilvy

This is all very nice, but it’s not very descriptive is it? Doesn’t really tell you much about the day to day life of the copywriter or the nuts and bolts of the craft. You could read a book on the subject. There are many, copywriters are just authors without a book deal after all. Or you could read a blog, specifically this one. After all blogs are like books distilled to the ideal 4–8 minutes our attention spans are suited for. So what is copywriting? Well, what is copy?

The Styles

Copy is what we in the business call the written word. It’s also called copy in journalism and publishing, but the focus here is on marketing copy. Similar to literature there any a plethora of subcategories under the broad category of copy.

creative copy
{noun} \ ˈkrē-ˈā-tiv, ˈkä-pē\
All sizzle and no steak, it’s the story telling that grabs readers attention and keeps them reading long enough to get to the last bit of copywriting.

sales copy
{noun} \ ˈsālz, ˈkä-pē\
Action oriented copy to direct the reader’s attention to the next step, pushing an entertained reader into a motivated customer.

content copy
{noun} \ˈkän-ˌtent, ˈkä-pē\
Informational, it’s all steak and no sizzle, to repeat the earlier metaphor. This blog serves as an excellent example if we do say so ourselves.

technical copy
{noun} \ˈtek-ni-kəl , ˈkä-pē\
Informational, however it’s dryer and denser even than content and is best left to the experts in a particular field rather than a professional copywriter.

SEO copy
{noun} \ˈs-i-oʊ , ˈkä-pē\
A sub-sub category in that searchable keywords could be used in any of the above categories, but it takes an SEO specialist to execute effectively.

The Types

There’s also special names for all the parts of a particular style of copy. The bit that goes at the top, is the headline or the title. The purpose of the headline is to grab attention and peak a reader’s interest. This sounds click baity, and it can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

Next in the hierarchy are subheadings, or subtitles. These support the headline and provide more clarity, or in some cases the punchline to the headlines set up.

In the middle and usually occupying the most space and the bulk of the word count is the body copy. For a blog that would be this bit here you’re reading now. In a print ad it’s the long bit that years of market research says people aren’t reading anymore.

At the bottom, though technically they can be anywhere, you’ll usually find a call to action. This is exactly what it sounds like, a sentence or two which encourages a reader to action. On the web the copy is usually contained in a button, and says something like “drink me”…no wait I mean “click here.”

The Media

Copywriting is everywhere, even where you least expect it. Where there’s a brand, there’s branded copy. Traditional copywriting for advertising, with its Mad Men-esque flair is easy to recognize. Less eye catching and more ubiquitous are all the myriad of ways copywriting has dominated digital advertising.

Web pages are filled from top to bottom with copy, from the homepage title to all the SEO keywords, it’s all copywriting. Another aspect of copywriting we haven’t touched on yet, script writing. Radio, television, and video all start as a script and require specialized copywriters. Every Spotify commercial or YouTube mid-roll video started its life as copy. Oh and social media managers? That’s just a fancy, millennial way of saying social media copywriter.

Copywriters have many jobs and they can wear many hats but the purpose of copywriting is always the same. Whether it’s as direct as a CTA or a subtle ask a keyword, copywriting is persuasive.