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Ask a Copywriter: How Do I Choose a Copywriter?


Crystal Dove

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More often than not, my website clients need a copywriter but have no idea how to begin. Do they have to hire a copywriter, or can they DIY it? How do they choose the right copywriter? How much should it cost? 

While I’ve successfully guided many an entrepreneur through the process, I decided to ask an actual professional copywriter what they’d tell one of their clients. So I spoke with Jenn Whinnem of Obsession Eleven to get some answers.

Jenn’s uses her proprietary Obsession Eleven framework to write copy for brands that want to be magnetic, irresistible, and obsession-worthy. Because people who are obsessed with you are genuinely intoxicated with excitement to buy your products and services, of course.

She’s worked with companies specializing in weddings, events, food and beverage, and interior design/architecture. 

Portrait of Jenn Whinnem, a copywriter. She has dark auburn hair and is wearing a professional, white sleevless top. She has blue eyes and is looking at the camera, smiling slightly.

Crystal: What do you think my website design clients should look for in a copywriter? There are so many out there. What factors should they pay attention to when making their choice?

Jenn: Ooh! Since we’re talking about website copy, I’m going to focus on that.

Of course, a copywriter must be able to write persuasively. It means writing words that create a feeling in your customers that compels them to buy. The copy has to be written to convert leads into clients. So, look for a copywriter who writes with feeling. 

Second, a copywriter should know how to write for the web. Not all copywriters can. People read differently on the web – in fact, they try to avoid it as much as possible. 

Don’t let that fool you into thinking the words on your website are not important. Actually, it’s the opposite. I’ll explain.

We know from eye-tracking data that when people encounter a big chunk of text, AKA, a really lengthy paragraph, they resort to reading in an F-shaped pattern.* They read the first few lines all the way across, and then they begin to skim. They only read the first couple of words of each line and as they go, they read even less – just like the end of the F.

Why? Because they’re looking for something – anything, really – to answer the question, “Is it even worth my time to slog through this?”

Crystal: Is it possible to have a lot of information on a page without turning off the reader?

Yes, but no copywriter can pull it off without a great designer (such as yourself, of course). A copywriter should focus on writing shorter sentences, and a designer should focus on using design styles such as H2 and H3 text, and visually demarcate the different sections of content.

Breaking up the text allows website visitors to read in a layer-cake pattern. They skim the headline of each section and decide if that particular section can answer the question they came to your site to answer. 

You know what this gives you? More opportunities to capture your website visitor’s attention. And that means more opportunities to persuade them to buy from you!

Not all copywriters understand how important it is for website copy to allow site visitors to complete what Gerry McGovern calls “top tasks.” In addition to structuring the content to be readable, we also prioritize it from top to bottom and includes various calls-to-action (contextual links, button links, affiliate links, etc.).

Crystal: How do you know if a copywriter can do all those things? What should Marketing Queen clients look for in a copywriter?

The first place to look to evaluate a potential copywriter is their own website. Is the copy they wrote for themselves any good? Is it creative, accurate, persuasive?

I’d also look at their blog. But here, you’re not looking so much at the writing as you are looking at how their minds work. How do they approach topics? How are they thinking about copywriting? Do they keep on top of trends? Etc.

And, the most obvious thing to look at is their portfolio. Whether or not the copywriter has experience in your industry may or may not be important to you. I think Marketing Queen clients should ask themselves these questions:

  • Do all of their highlighted projects sound the same? Or does the voice of each project vary? 
  • Is there a clear goal for each piece of writing, and do they accomplish that goal? 
  • Do you have to think too hard to understand what each sentence and section of a piece is saying? 
  • Do I like how this person writes? Ultimately, that’s the most important one.

Crystal: Should someone hiring a copywriter look for how their writing improved their client’s business?

YES. If the information is not included in the portfolio samples, ask about it on the sales call.

HOWEVER. In my experience, most small businesses do not have Google Analytics set up on their websites! And if they do, GA is not configured correctly to track success. And they don’t understand the numbers. To be honest, I only know enough about GA to be dangerous, so if it’s not configured properly, I’m not confident the numbers are telling me the right story.

So in many cases, a copywriter may have no insight into whether the copy is working. I’m genuinely delighted when a client works with a talented designer such as yourself who sets them up to track their goals. 

Related: Four Basic Stats to Watch in Your Google Analytics Dashboard

Crystal: Jenn, thanks so much for your insights into what to look for in a copywriter!

*Jenn always likes to cite her sources. How People Read on the Web: The Eyetracking Evidence is a publication of the Norman Nielsen Group.

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