Copywriting is an essential part of any content marketing plan. There’s something very powerful when you put just the right words on paper that, in turn, conjure emotions and action. Creating emotion through prose is more challenging than just writing “be curious” or “be happy.”

Copywriting is an art form—so find a good artist.

I may be biased since I’ve been a copywriter for 15 years, but I think it is one of the most important functions of any organization. Take the words we choose to put on our websites, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, and emails, as an example. Those words often precede an introduction in person. The right choice of words sets the tone for what’s to follow. Poor grammar, spelling errors, and hasty copy can all be immediate red flags that prohibit you from getting in front of your target audience.

Images and design are important, but they don’t come close to conveying a full story like words do. So, how do you find the perfect person to craft your brand’s story?

This thorough 11-point inspection can be used to evaluate a potential copywriter to see if they are the right fit.

Quick sidebar: Do you know what a copywriter is? If not, check out this post and then bounce back over here once you’ve finished your assigned reading.

1. Portfolio-schmortfolio

Don’t get me wrong, you should review a copywriter’s portfolio, just don’t be too quick to judge. The best portfolio is often one that isn’t filled with work that you immediately relate to. The best portfolio has a wide range of copy in various styles. Look for humor, persuasive copy, taglines, product copy, direct mail, emails, and case studies. Look for long and short copy. Do they have examples of longer press releases or thought leadership articles along with clever taglines or tweets? A great copywriter doesn’t write to please a portfolio, they write for the client, and ultimately the end user. Diversity is key. A diverse portfolio tells you that they are malleable and can react and adapt.

2. Jacks can also be masters

Just because a copywriter has years of experience doesn’t mean that they will be more knowledgeable. You need to dig in and ensure that the writer has experience with multiple industries. Make sure they have written for a diverse group of products and services and brands. One of the biggest misconceptions about copywriting is that you just need a “good writer.” Not so much. Someone could publish a book about underwater knitting, that is a solid read, but they write for themselves and a very niche community. They wrote about a subject they knew and felt comfortable with. A great copywriter is someone that has undying curiosity and a journalistic approach to storytelling. They need to transition between researcher, writer, marketer, and editor with complete ease, and enthusiasm. 

3. You know any good jokes?

Some of the greatest writers I admire are those that can exude humor and personality in-between the lines and periods. Think about modern-day peeps like David Sedaris, Dave Berry, and the writers of the satirical news site, The Onion. Or, a throwback to Mark Twain and the subtle, yet powerful humor he inflicted into much of his work. Humor can be hard for people, in general, and it becomes even more challenging when you are trying to convey it in textual conversation. A lot can get lost in translation, so if you come across a writer that can make you laugh, they have a unique ability to take written content and turn it into something approachable and unique. Plus, there are studies that show humor is one of the best ways to not only engage with someone but to ensure that they retain the information.

4. Your precious auto correct can’t save you now

Spell check will only get you so far these days. Giving writers a pass because they came close to the right word isn’t acceptable. We as a society are a bit sloppy with the influx of quick tweets, posts, and texts. There is a big difference between, “Grandma is home from the hospital,” and “Grandma is a homosexual.” A good writer uses clear and concise sentence structure, proper punctuation, and understands the nuances of the English language (and auto correct). A good rule of thumb when I review someone else’s copy is to read it backward first. By doing this, you can pay attention to the word and not the context of the word. It’s amazing how the brain can skim over errors because it’s close to the correct choice. I pay specific attention to commonly misused words like their, they’re, or there, it’s and its or capital and capitol. I recently came across an error where the author chose breath instead of breathe in an article for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. He’s a super smart author, but everyone makes mistakes. Don’t judge so harshly that you miss great content, but rather formulate judgments on consistent errors.

5. Tick, tock, now start writing!

Deadlines should drive a copywriter. If they can’t speak thoughtfully to processes, work backs, and timelines, then you might be rolling the dice. They should have a solid understanding of how long creating specific types of content will take. Blog posts and case studies are totally different animals, and the time needed to research, create, and receive feedback will vary by content type. You know you’ve found a great copywriter when you get 1-2 revisions well in advance of the final due date. Seldom does a writer hit the nail on the head the first try. Great writers work in revisions, and they include the client in that iterative process. When you interview copywriters, ask them how many drafts you are allotted and how much time will be in between those drafts. A solid writer should provide a rough outline for you to approve followed by no less than two drafts before a final version.

6. Marketing 101

The official definition of copywriting is the art and science of writing copy (words used on web pages, ads, promotional materials, etc.) that sells your product or service and convinces prospective customers to take action. This makes copywriting a function of sales and marketing, not English or literature. So, good writing aside, a great copywriter understands complex marketing terminology and theory. They should be able to craft a compelling call to action (CTA), convincing landing pages, and SEO that is masked under the guise of rich storytelling. And, as we venture into a future where marketing automation tools are becoming front runners that aid in making the customer journey more seamless, if you find a copywriter with marketing automation experience, win win! While robots might play bigger roles in the marketing landscape, human interaction is going to be paramount in creating an experience that feels rich with emotion and information.

7. They’re in good with Google

Copywriting is one part storytelling and one part keyword strategy. A solid copywriter will understand how to research and formulate specific keywords to drive positive momentum for you on the line (Shout out to my boy Vince Vaughn). High-quality content is paramount to staying in Google’s good graces, so you need to make sure that the copywriter you hire not only understands how to find relevant keywords but more importantly can weave them into the story without sounding like a robot authored the piece.

8. They blow chunks. Of copy

Copywriting is a waste if no one reads what you wrote or hired someone to write. A great copywriter knows how to break up concepts and copy in a way that helps the reader digest the concepts presented in their work. Chunking, as I like to call it, is an essential part of the copy. Simple chunking in the form of a bold headline, italic subheading, and two clean paragraphs of body copy that have some space in between them goes a long way. Chunking requires the author to pick up on the subtle details of how someone might interpret the work. Therefore, they need to be acutely aware of how to structure sentences and paragraphs to build excitement and engagement while sticking to the totality of the concept.

9. The devil in the details

Great copy is complete copy. If you review a potential copywriters work, check to make sure they have included items that indicate that they will go the extra mile. Elements such as proper link placement, calls to action, contact information, references are all extra items that make content complete—and extremely useful for the reader.

10. Smoke signals and homing pigeons

Copywriters need to have that marketing spark that makes them easy to communicate with, easy to bounce ideas off, and most importantly, be able to convey their ideas in a clear and concise manner. They should also be responsive to your emails and calls. You are paying them, so that’s part of the gig. 

11. Show them the money!

I’ve saved this one for the end, because by now, hopefully, you understand that there’s a lot that goes into copywriting. Much like a great graphic designer or coder, you get what you pay for. Copy is massively important and underestimating and undervaluing its worth is a risky decision. Hire someone that will knock it out of the park with interesting, engaging, and entertaining copy. Find someone who goes the extra mile and can adapt and add value to your brand. A great copywriter is worth their weight in gold and someone that you will have on speed dial once you find the right fit. 

Little known fact for extra credit.

Great copywriters, especially in Bozeman, have at least one cat. This is an inside secret, so you’re welcome in advance.