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How to transition from journalism to copywriting

By November 2, 2023 2 Comments

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Copywriting has moved away from the domain of men smoking cigars in a stuffy room brainstorming new ways of selling face cream to housewives. It has evolved into a profitable niche for journalists and freelance writers, and the basic principle remains the same: persuade the audience to act. If you’ve been wondering about how to transition from journalism to copywriting, here are the 5 skills you need.

Copywriting vs content writing: What’s the difference?

As a freelance writer who writes both copy and content, I find them vastly different in terms of the end goals for the business.

Copywriting is text that’s written purely for advertising purposes. The aim is to get the user to act. It could entice them to scan a QR code in exchange for a sample or persuade a customer to choose one brand when faced with ten options at the supermarket!

Content informs, creates brand awareness, and builds trust with the audience. It’s the step before the action. Content can be social media captions, blogs, whitepapers, videos, tutorials, case studies or personalised AI avatars (hello Barbie the movie!).

Content helps build trust by answering the audience’s questions at different stages of the buyer’s cycle.

For example, a mobile phone user wanting to switch from Apple to Samsung might search for the following information online or in forums.

They may read reviews about user experiences, watch product demo videos, or even go in-store to try out the product.

The questions may get more specific as the buyer moves along the cycle.

Why Samsung model is the best?

Samsung Galaxy S23 reviews

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs iPhone 15 Pro features

Copy and content both include a Call to Action (CTA). While a blog piece might ask the reader to sign up for a newsletter or download a guide, a CTA for copy is directly related to a sales goal.

5 crucial skills you need in making the transition from journalism to copywriting

Copywriting has moved away from purely writing the words to thinking about and developing expertise in:

  • customer profiling (know your audience).
  • content strategy (how copy fits into a larger strategy).
  • AI (brainstorming and ideation).
  • wireframing and UX (laying out the content in a way that makes sense to the user journey).
  • keyword research (help the content rank online).

1. Developing a customer profile

Ever read copy that spoke to you? And convinced you buy the product or service? If yes, then you are the business’s ideal client!

Before writing a single word, you need to understand who your client’s customers are. The more detailed the profile, the better your copy will convert.

As part of your content strategy (see section below), add customer interviews to your copywriting service.

Interview up to 3 of your client’s best customers for insights into their goals and behaviours (primary research). Research your client’s competitors, social media comments and product or service reviews to understand what their dream audience could be struggling with and your client’s selling points (secondary research).

You can get valuable information from trawling through competitors’ testimonials and reviews. They are perfect for identifying gaps where your client might be doing better, which you can mention in the copy.

2. Content strategy

A copywriter needs to be able to create a content strategy, instead of writing content on the fly. Offering content strategy to clients means an additional income stream, and one that’s quite lucrative because of its perceived value.

A content strategy helps outline content gaps, identifies where to focus copywriting dollars to get the best ROI, includes metrics and provides a clear direction. Creating a content strategy helps measure results and proves your value as a copywriter.

3. AI and copywriting

As a copywriter, you should understand how AI works and how to use it in your work because it’s already transforming content creation. While AI can’t bring the human aspect, it’s a useful tool to brainstorm ideas, headlines or speed up processes so you’re more productive.

Play with different prompts, and use AI in your business to get familiar with it. Sign up to AINEWS and follow experts like Andrew Y Ng (co-founder of Google Brain) to keep up-to-date with developments.

It’ll give you a competitive advantage over copywriters who are refusing to use these tools or not using them to their full potential.

4. Wireframing and UX

A wireframe is a visual outline of a website page or app. It shows the client what their website page could look like instead of trying to guess when presented with copy only.

Presenting wireframes and copy together helps the web developer follow an approved outline, shortens build times because the client has already signed off on the layout and copy and saves your client (and you!) time and money.

Understanding how UX works in copywriting helps you match the user journey to the copy, removes ambiguity and increases conversions.

Getting started with wireframing

Choose a website layout and create wireframes using Draftium, Figma or Canva. You can also use pen and paper or Word to create a basic layout and fill in the copy.

5. Keyword research

Keyword research is using the words and phrases your client’s audience is searching for online to find solutions to their problems. Content that’s not optimised won’t be found online or rank for the wrong keywords affecting the site’s ranking.

Below are some tools and resources for keyword research. These sites have blogs and video tutorials to help you get started:

Pick one tool you’re comfortable with, learn it and use it. Allocate a time limit to keyword research because you can often fall down the rabbit hole!

Cheap and free ways to conduct keyword research

  • Ask your client’s customers what words they would use to search for your client’s product or service and check to see if they have data.
  • Answer the Public offers 3 free searches. Use it to find longer keywords or blog topic inspiration.
  • The related searches function in Google is often great for finding synonyms.
  • Brainstorm a list of keywords and search to see if any of your client’s competitors come up. If yes, add it to your list and use it to create better-ranking content.

Include high traffic, low competition and low keyword difficulty keywords in your copy. Sometimes a client may provide a list of keywords – find data to support why or why not they should be included in the copy you write.

It’s also important that you avoid broad keywords like ‘roof repair’ or keywords with high competition (CPC) because they are usually difficult to rank for.

Transitioning from journalism to copywriting is exciting and copywriting has come a long way from the times of Mad Men. As well as writing the words, you should have an understanding of and skills in content strategy, wireframing and UX, keyword research, building an audience profile, and using AI to brainstorm ideas and increase your productivity.

Learning these extra skills and offering them to clients means better results, more value and expertise for them and higher rates for you.

About the writer

Rashida Tayabali is a B2B and B2C copywriter in Sydney, Australia specialising in copy that drives results for clients. As a features writer, she’s been published in SBS Voices, SMH, Sunday Life and other leading publications. She shares copy tips, marketing tips and personal stories via her monthly newsletter The Wordsmith. Rashida offers a customer avatar workbook to help small business owners and freelance copywriters build in-depth customer profiles. Connect with Rashida on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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There’s never been a better time to be a freelancer. But how do you make the leap from writing as a hobby to full time freelancing? The Freelancer’s Year has all the tips and tricks you need to be a successful freelance writer.