March 18th, 2020

How To Start Copywriting: A Helpful Guide

Written by Mikey Shaughnessy

Before Copycat, Mikey gallivanted around the West Coast, roaming through mystical forests, bathing in pristine rivers, and writing horrible Instagram poetry. Now he lives in the concrete jungle of New York near Copycat's headquarters. His role at the company is a simple one: build the systems and structures that allow Copycat to scale.

You’re a novelist who just landed your first book deal. It’s been your dream since fifteen when you were expounding to your mother how Glass Sword (the second in the Red Queen series) was superior to the entire Harry Potter series combined. You used to check the back cover of novels to glimpse the face behind the words and picture your own face there. Now you’re staring at a check that says—you’re a writer. You’ve made it.

Only problem is, the check isn’t quite enough to comfortably quit your job as a bookkeeper at the law firm.

This sentiment is felt by young novelists, screenwriters, and poets—oh, poets—early in their career. Unless you’re in the “big leagues kid,” you aren’t making enough to survive. And while it’s romantic to live off coffee, two-dollar wine, and Top Ramen, there is another way to pursue your dreams and get paid for your talents.

Copywriting | The Job For Creative Writers

Copywriting, put simply, is writing copy for the internet—it’s company blog articles, listicles on BoozeFed, slogans on a website, the words you’re currently reading in your head. Speaking of… “I’m awesome and amazing. I’m awesome and amazing.”

Lastly, copywriting is a way for creative writers to get payyyy$$yyy$$$dddd.


If you’re motivated and strategic and conscientious, you can easily make a few grand a month working 15-25 hours a week as a copywriter. (I know this because I’ve done it… said an omniscient voice). If you want to earn more (or less) by working more (or less), you can. You just have to know how to get started. Thus, we’re going to break down the basics:

  1. The Fundamentals of Copy
  2. Copycat’s Methodology
  3. Landing That First Job
  4. Freelance vs Salary

Note: While by the end of this article, you may not be changing your LinkedIn profile to Copywriter, you will be well on the right path to becoming one.

1. Copywriting 101 | Class is in Session

The world of copywriting. Oh bother, where to begin?

Because copywriting is a catchall term for writing done on the internet, you can see why every company—whether they know it or not—needs a professional copywriter. As a business, you want customers and clients to find you on a Google search. For that you need to have an online presence: a website, a blog, etc. These need to be written to the same standard you hold everywhere else in your company.

Quick history Lesson: Businesses used to be able to outsource their copy needs to just about anyone with a keyboard. Twenty years ago, all Google’s Algorithm ranked for was relevant keywords. So, an insurance company with a galaxy-wide backend of pages that read…

Insurance. Great insurance for customers. I need insurance. How about insurance? You want insurance? Extra! Extra! Read all about insurance. You get insurance! And you get insurance! And you get insurance! Everybody gets insurance.

…would be placed high on search queries for anything insurance-related.

Since then, Google’s Algorithm has gotten smarter. And with the improved algorithm has come a need for smarter copy. Copy that compels. Copy with actionable words. Copy that’s actually read.

Copy that’s written by great writers.

That’s where you and I come in.

Understanding Google’s Algorithm | Understanding SEO

Knowing this, part of your job is communicating with Google’s Algorithm. The other part is communicating to your audience (more on this below).

For the sake of not saying Google’s Algorithm over and over again. I’m going to call it GAry. Now, GAry started off real dumb. However, over the years GAry has gotten to know people. After watching us search “Is it raining” or “Italian near me,” GAry has become proficient at sending us weather reports and local Italian restaurants—instead of sending us pictures of men and Italian men, respectively.

Creating content that helps GAry connect search queries to copy involves optimizing for the search engine, or more commonly known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Entire courses are taught on SEO copywriting best practices. But what do you need to get the picture? Three high-level basics:

  • Compelling Content vs Clickbait – First, and most importantly, the content must be compelling (read: engaging, comprehensive, interesting, readable) for it to rank. It’s what underlies every SEO copywriting strategy. In fact, in terms of “essentials,” SEO-strategist and founder of Moz, Rand Fishkin, ranks compelling content as the second most important facet—just below the ability for Google to index (or find) your content.

Compelling content is more important than keywords, backlinks, citations, compelling UX—though these are important.

What informs GAry that content is compelling and not just a clickbait title?

    • How much time users spend on the page before leaving
    • Percentage of users who only viewed the one page (instead of clicking through to the rest of the site)
    • How often users click on a site and then quickly return to the search page

In its essence, you’re applying the same mentality when you’re pitching your screenplay, or when you’re trying to get an agent to consider taking you on as a novelist. You want people to listen. And listen good.

  • Relevancy to Search Query – Relevancy is why this article pops up when you Google search “copywriting how to get started” or “copywriting where to start.” It’s dependent upon the keywords you use in your content, which, yes, this article is using keywords like “copywriting how to start” to rank. Here’s another keyword we’re using: Where to start copywriting. And another one…

{Interjecting\Sequence:_GAry Here. Do Not Spam Keywords Like [User_:Mikey] Did Here. I Will Catch This. I Will Flag This. I. Will. Destroy. Huma~~~~~~~\.Sequence_Interrupted}

From there, how well your keywords rank depends on how engaging the content is. Write better content. Include keywords. And watch as your articles organically improve in rank.

  • Authority in the Space – You’ll probably never outrank UPS, USPS, and FedEx on articles related to shipping a package. The fact is, these organizations have authority that you don’t, and GAry is a sharp enough AI-cookie to realize that. To become the authority in your niche, there are 2 few different SEO-specific strategies.

    • Backlinks – When high-quality or high-authority websites link back to your content, this is similar to a word-of-mouth recommendation.
    • Domain Authority – Your website domain will gain authority the longer it’s around, the quality of the content it produces, and the number of users who seek out your domain.
    • Page Authority – Individual pages contribute to the overall domain authority. Page authority is the closest one-to-one correlation with your search ranking.

The point here is that while there are innumerable SEO copywriting services & strategies (go ahead and ask GAry about it, I dare you), everything stems from the content. To that end…

Understanding Your Target Audience | Understanding Your Objective

The primary objective of a copywriter is to write compelling content. This will be reiterated until I’m dead, and even then, another intelligent cupcake will come along and understand this fundamental, and then repeat: “The primary objective of a copywriter is to write compelling content.”

However, the word “compelling” is subjective.

Thus, you need to know whom you’re speaking to.

And in a long and expansive career in copywriting (or within a few short months at Copycat) your target audience will, at times, consist of Cat Lovers, College Admissions Counsel Members, Financial Advisors, Star Wars Fans, Plumbers, Cereal Eaters, and Cat Haters.

Pretty much anyone and everyone will be on your radar. That’s why it’s more to remember the fundamentals of being a human being (right GAry?):

  • They don’t like to be lied to; write honest
  • They prefer brevity; don’t dilly-dally
  • They clicked on your article to learn something; teach them

From there, do your best to understand the audience. Create a character if you have to. Write as them; to them; for them. Use your skills to create an experience that your will hook your audience from the start so that they don't stop reading..

What’s more: Learn copywriting jargon relevant to the industry; know your company’s brand (are they playful or are they direct?); grasp the article’s concepts before you begin. These will all help you nail the voice.

2. The Copycat Methodology

At the heart of Copycat are great writers. In the same way a great screenwriter is a writer; a novelist is a writer; a poet is a writer... a great professional copywriter is, at his or her heart, a great writer. The same muscle is being flexed.

Copycat as an entity believes that a great writer can be taught the structure and form of copy, but great formatters can’t be taught how to write copy.

Or maybe they can, but it’s not our business model.

To that end, our writers intuitively understand speaking to an audience, because it’s their brain. They understand that a narrative is woven through every piece of writing because it’s their blood. Lastly, they understand the value of learning the industry, being curious, because it’s their heart.

That’s why “solid content” is our business model. It’s why every piece of copy that comes out of Copycat holds a certain promise. It’s equal parts form and function. It’s both aesthetics

  • Proper formatting structure
  • Plenty of white space on the page (screenwriters, where you is?)
  • NEVER UPPER-CASE (gross)

…and purpose

  • Digestible chunks of information
  • Headers that thread the narrative
  • One-liners are dramatic
  • Only using one-liners is eye trash (ahem, {redacted competitor name})
  • Sentence fragments. Use them.

Not only is this why companies enjoy working with us, but it’s why writers apply. Because nothing beats working shoulder-to-shoulder with other writers.

3. Landing That First Gig

There are plenty of ways to land that first gig. There are sites like Fiverr and Upwork and Craigslist to get freelance copywriting work and build your portfolio. There’s ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor to apply for copywriting positions. You can build a blogging empire, learn the tricks of the trade along the way, and get paid to consult for companies—all without any formal training.

As writers in every industry know, there are as many paths to a successful career in copywriting as there are writers.

Know this, if you’re a quality writer, you will get scooped up. Hell, we’ll scoop you up—if you’re a writer who’s looking for steady pay and access to a network of other talented writers, Copycat is always scoop-scoop-scooping away. You may as well call us Scoopycat.

  • Pitched ourselves. Check.

For a personal account…

When first starting out as a lost writer living in his car, I used an algorithm that scanned every Craigslist posting in every city under the keywords: “screenwriting” “novel” “writing” “writer” etc., etc., etc. I would run it every morning and night and watched as my computer screen filled with 40-some-odd tabs. I would reply to every potential lead, scammy or underpaid or ridiculous, until I developed a portfolio. Then, I raised my prices, found better work, raised my prices, built a website, raised my prices, got scammed, needed a contract, met Shawn, CEO of Copycat, asked for some contract help, we shared novels and drank wine, and my integration with Copycat is history.

That’s my story.

How are you going to write yours?

4. Freelance Business vs Career Salary

Many writers lose sleep over this very question. Do you want to travel the world, work as a digital nomad, let your words carry you places otherwise thought unimaginable? Well then, be prepared for a level of self-discipline that equals your caffeine consumption—freelancing it is.

Or do you enjoy stability, concreteness? Do you want earn your bread and have nights and weekends available to work on your Magnum Opus? Congratulations; you’re a salary-type.

Ultimately, deciding between the two is a question of temperament…

  • Do you enjoy having security and a steady source of income? Salary
  • Are you a pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps kind of writer? Freelance
  • Can’t stand being directed and told what to work on? Freelance
  • Enjoy doing other things? Have other hobbies outside writing? Salary in the short-term, Freelance in the long-term.

Copywriting, How to Get Started

There is so much more to impart about how to get started copywriting—ha, totally not a keyword. Each of the above points could be detailed into a blog post twice this size on their own. Much like writing copy itself, you can travel down the rabbit hole as deep as you’d like—falling and falling and falling as far as Alice did.

Will you follow in the White Rabbit’s footsteps, becoming a freelancer and facing the I’m late, I’m-late-I’m-late-I’m-late! mentality?

Or does working for the Red Queen not sound so bad? At least you get paid time off alongside the “off with your head.”

Like the Cheshire Cat in this soon-to-be-convoluted-but-oh-so-enjoyable analogy, I’ll leave you with a sneaking grin that says there is something in-between.

At Copycat, you can work part-time, full-time, remote, or in-house. As long as you’re a great writer, honestly, we don’t give a damn. Although you didn’t come here to get pitched.

You came here to learn how to get started copywriting and begin your experience.

That’s easy to answer.

All one has to do is pick up the pen.


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