Free technical help for digital creators - music, video, art, photography, graphic & web design

Copywriting by Matt Ottewill

Copywriting is the act of creating words (copy) for promotional activities and information dissemination. It should not be confused with copyright which concerns itself with protecting intellectual ownership of "works". Copywriting is primarily concerned with promoting an idea, business, individual, product or service in print, broadcast media (TV, radio etc), and electronic media (web sites, marketing emails etc).


A copywriter writes content, marketing and promotional copy and is usually part of a creative team at a design or advertising agency. Small businesses and organisations will either nominate an employee with the necessary skills or employ a freelance copywriter, or design agency.

Copywriters are literate, creative and understand how to use words to reach a target audience. They will write copy for the following ...

  • Web page content, always considering the needs of search engine optimisation
  • Email marketing
  • Print and web adverts / banners
  • Brochures, newsletters and promotional print materials
  • Headlines and tag lines
  • Press releases
  • Social media (blog posts, tweets etc)

No-promotional copywriting

Copywriters may also be asked to write copy for non-promotional purposes but this is much more likely to be done by the most appropriate (literate) employee at a business. Examples include ...

  • Policy documents
  • Guidelines
  • Manuals
  • Reports
  • etc

Marketing & promotional copy

Copywriters create copy to promote or persuade the reader/audience towards a particular point of view, such as "this product is the best". Their primary aim is to get the reader to keep reading! They do this by grabbing attention and then progressing the message from simple concepts to greater and greater detail.

Here is a well used hierarchy for an advert ...

  1. Image - Humans are first and foremost visual, therefore grabbing attention with a compelling image works best.
  2. Headline (tag line, or post title) - Grab attention with a large bold headline
  3. Standfirst - Large text that explains the key benefits of product or service fast, or sets up a compelling concept.
  4. Detail of product or service - Small text. You are no longer trying to grab attention, you have them!
  5. Contact details.
  6. Branding. Logos, strapline.


Headlines are used to quickly convey a compelling concepts. They are used in promotional materials such as adverts and banners, but also for subject lines of blogs, tweets or web site pages. Here are some of the headline types ...

  • Direct - eg "Free Aston Martin with every iPhone contract!".
  • Indirect - often used to create curiosity and interest, eg "Why Marilyn Monroe was frustrated" (ie she didn't have an Aston Martin).
  • Command - eg "Take control with Nintendo DS3D".
  • Question - eg "Are you satisfied with your car insurance?".
  • News - eg "iPad wins design prize".
  • Reasons why - eg "Why Apple should watch out!"

Tone & context

Tone is not just about the choice of words, but also about how we say them. Humans often change their choice of words and tone depending on the context of a conversation and the individual. For example, in a business you may find yourself having many conversations with different individuals each day, such as ...

  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Colleagues
  • Partner organisations
  • Financiers

You will almost certainly not adopt the same tone for customers and colleagues.


Defining the correct tone for customers and ensuring this is delivered with consistency across the business for conversations/dialogues, information and promotional activities is crucial. Many businesses spend time defining the correct tone and training staff. Key concepts when deciding upon the correct tone include ...

1st person, 3rd person, collective

Examples ...

  • Dear customer, Multicore Wiring has received your order and it will be dispatched shortly.
  • Dear customer, we have received your order and it will be dispatched shortly.
  • Dear customer, I have received your order and it will be dispatched shortly.

Writing in the 1st person is often preferable when you are communicating with an individual customer as opposed to an organisation or business. Giving the impression of a personal conversation can be highly effective when selling a product or service online, in broadcast, or in print.

Serious or informal

Tone will depend on context. You may wish to be personal and approachable but professional with customers, but much less informal when writing a complaints procedure policy document which outlines a customers rights.


There is always a need to communicate clearly and effectively and the best way to do this is to be concise The easiest way to be concise is to use big clever words! However, you must understand your audience and not use language and words they will not understand.


Style is much more about fashion and therefore targeting differing age groups. For example, you would adopt a very different style of copywriting for the following groups ...

  • Teenagers on social networks
  • Elderly people looking for health products
  • Electrical engineers seeking information about new Euro-zone health and safety practices
  • A death metal band website


Copy should be constructed to deliver a consistent message in a consistent style. Things to decide upon and then stick to include ...

  • Terminology
  • Tenses - past, present, future
  • 1st person, 3rd person
  • Personal or professional tone
  • etc

Writing for search

Copywriting for digital media requires an awareness of how an audience searches for products and information and how the primary search engines index and rank copy on web sites and linked media. A copywriter must consider the following ...

  • Titling documents - use by Google for the search result link
  • HTML markup and CSS - good logical flow aids ranking
  • Keywords - determine most relevant keywords and use consistently in tags
  • Concise relevant content - don't sacrifice good concise copy by shoe-horning keywords in
  • Consistency of terminology - decide and stick to (eg "car" or "automobile")
  • Meta tags/data - still useful
  • Accessibility - a government requirement for all public sector institutions in the UK
  • Content management systems - understand the structure of the database and web page (eg php includes)

More on Search engine optimisation

Considerations of writing for web publishing technologies

If you are writing for a the web, static pages, bloggs, dynamic web site or CMS you will need to be aware of a few issues ...

  • SEO: Will your copy be indexed and ranked by search engines?
  • Identifying and using keywords and meta data
  • Are there work count limitations (Twitter, Facebook etc)
  • Will your copy be subject to censorship?
  • Copy right and trademark issues
  • Ethical
  • Legal issues: being truthful, freedom of speech, being sued etc
  • Target audience
  • etc

Meta tags

If you are creating an ad in the form of an html page you will need to consider meta data in the <head> tag. Getting these right will help with search engine indexing and ranking. Think carefully about what you want to include in ...

  • meta tags
  • <title> tag (use by Google in search results)

Before publishing

When you have completed your copy you will need to undertake the following ...

  • Proof reading - have someone else proof read your copy. You cannot do this yourself, you will only see what you expect to.
  • Spell check - spelling and grammar checking
  • Character count - have you exceeded the maximum words allowed?
  • Client sign off - seek client approval and get them to sign off your copy with a dated signature