Why copywriters need to get data ...or get out of the business

Understanding metrics isn't just the remit of analysts, it's now part of your entire marketing team's work

You create brilliant content for your clients. Smart writing, good analysis, compellingly readable style.

Your copy makes the brand manager feel warm and fuzzy and it looks good on the web page.

But so what?

The marketing and media worlds are shifting … from “tell me” to “show me.” Being able to produce well-written copy alone is no longer good enough for the professional copywriter.

It doesn’t matter how good your writing is (although this note may help). If you can’t show precisely how and why it’s successful, you’re falling behind your competition.

Copywriters — freelancer or in-house — who apply data to their craft will always be the clear choice when positioned against those who don’t.

What makes for a great copywriter … today

You are no longer a great copywriter so much because you’ve written for popular media brand X or esteemed company Y.

You are a great copywriter because your content improved conversions on a client website by 52% or because you helped a blog boost its subscriber numbers from 2,367 to 10,464 in one year.

An example of using data to improve layout of site copy: fluency in running a/b tests to optimize site CTAs is now a must-have skill for copywriters

As a marketer who has predominantly worked for companies who run performance-based operations, those are the numbers that make my ears perk up. Image and pretty words are just fluff. Give me solid data every time.

Copywriting can no longer be considered a soft art, one that’s impossible to measure. It’s incredibly easy to get data behind your work and prove success in black and white — and you should if you want to be successful in the field.

Here are 5 reasons data-driven copywriters are going to be the future winners, while those who ignore data are going to be made irrelevant.

1. When hiring new writers, those who show metrics win every time

Working for various marketing agencies over the years as well as leading teams in-house, I’ve helped make decisions behind both outsourced and in-house copywriter hires. Almost none of those applicants actually put numbers behind their work as proof points.

It’s as if copywriters don’t think to use their own successes as proof points even if they have them.

If you want to get an in with an A-list team as a copywriter, put clear success metrics behind your work when showing samples. Don’t just link to a bunch of articles, blog posts, web pages, or email campaigns you wrote. Spend the extra effort to matrix out articles with URLs along with proof points plus some notes on your processes of using data to improve your work. Some simple examples might be:

  • Views since publishing (perhaps average views per month, show me you created something that’s in consistent demand)

  • Shares on key social media platforms (not gamed, show us real engagement, we can tell)

  • Ability to conduct keyword research to inform site optimization strategy

  • Conversions from content (or even average conversions per month)

  • Show your ability to also be creative with memes and other highly sharable formats that are less formal but still key ways to connect (and measure their performance)

  • Search rankings of content and CTR from search/ads

  • How you upleveled a client’s copy and it led to better site performance

  • Anything else that matters to your client

If you are working with people who won’t provide data behind the content you are creating, you need to make a case to get access. The way you do this is chat with them about the fact that to improve, you must understand what’s working and what isn’t. Without that data, your copy can’t do its best to fulfill their business goals.

Smart companies will always open up data to partners they trust. (If they don’t trust you enough, that’s a whole other issue, and one you need to address.)

2. You can’t be iterative without data

Noah Brier shared a fantastic presentation around the statement that everything is media.

One of his slides drives home the point that iteration is essential to the future of marketing:

Try things and iterate. Face it, you’re not as good at predicting success as you think you are. It is well-established that things become popular mostly randomly. Sure you can spend against but even that isn’t a guarantee.

“Iterate” is just a jargony way of saying do more of what works and less of what doesn’t — and to do that, you need data.

This is especially true for copywriting because it’s so measurable.

The best copywriters aren’t just writing — they are acting as consultants to their clients (or in-house teams) on how to test and tweak in order to improve their results.

Are you encouraging your clients or managers to split test landing pages? Try different premises, headlines, and copy approaches? If not, you should.

3. Getting bonuses based on success — it’s coming for copywriters too

Journalists are already starting to receive bonuses based on the measured success of their content. Gawker previously did it, as did the New York Observer amongst others.

While this hasn’t completely caught on in the corporate copywriting world, expect the trend to go that way as businesses wake up to the fact that every company is a media company.

While most companies are still figuring out what basic web analytics mean (I know, wild we’re still here) it has been my experience those who get educated advance quickly and an easy personal win even if your team isn’t developing their skills. This is a good thing as writers who can create successful content will start to get more work, while those producing fluffy drivel will easily be weeded out.

This is true for freelancers as well. You’ll be able to sign (and keep) better clients if you can show them that your writing works.

On the other hand, if you can’t prove that your writing is bringing in good results and your competition can — who should your client send the work to?

4. We live in an increasingly accountable world

Businesses are under increasing pressure to monitor everything.

If you want to be in a linchpin position for a company, accountability is essential.

Even if you’re already in a favorable position and not reporting numbers — what is the harm of at least starting to track your success? You might find your numbers aren’t great, but that’s okay as it will provide a benchmark of where you are. Now you can work to improve them scientifically by building on past successes.

The point is, be accountable to someone — even if it’s just yourself. You might even find certain pages don’t get many page views but are converting lots of high quality leads. You need to get savvy with metrics to understand this, articulate it, and make a case for what to do next.

5. The future: part analyst, part copywriter

The best-paid copywriters in the 21st century won’t just be wordsmiths — they’ll also be analysts.

What if instead of approaching based off “gut feel,” you instead made a business case for creating a certain piece of content based off past success or market demand? While of course nothing is 100% predictable, analysis lets you make educated decisions. And even if you don’t achieve the exact results you forecast, you can refine and adjust.

Even trying this makes you different than most.

The copywriters of the future (and some smart ones today) are able to analyze the client’s business situation and create content strategically, instead of simply completing an assignment to get it done.

You might have to charge more. It might take you a little more time.

But at the end of the day, your work will be that much better for it. And the people you write for will notice.

A version of the following post originally appeared on my friend’s site, Copyblogger