5 Reasons Copywriters Need to Get Data … Or Get Out of the Business

5 Reasons Copywriters Need to Get Data … Or Get Out of the Business

Reader Comments (64)

  1. Wow, great post. This is why I keep coming back to CopyBlogger… This is something that I never in a million years would have thought about.

    I especially like #1. Of course it makes sense. It’s social proof! You’re saying, “I can make all of these people think YOU and your company are amazing.” I imagine it would be hard to turn down that kind of applicant!

    Thanks for the great post, Adam. All the tips are things I’ll be keeping in mind as I start up with this whole freelancing thing.

    • Thanks Tristan, glad you enjoyed this. Metrics could easily be a copywriter’s ace in the hole to get hired. Amazing how almost no one offers them.

      • Very few people offer them because it does not even occur to them to do that. In the past, saying you worked with/for Big Name Company X or Y would have been enough to make you high in demand as a copywriter. Not so these days. More copywriters (especially freelancers) are finding themselves without work and they do not understand why those new comers seem to be getting hired all the time. This explains it clearly. Thanks for the great post Adam.

  2. Damn this is so true. As the old saying goes, what gets measured gets improved. And without the numbers to back up your claims you’re just another windbag farting hot air.

    This also goes for all you freelancers & coaches out there using blogs to generate leads: show measurable results clients achieved by working with you and write them as client success stories and you will have tons of work

  3. Great post Adam.

    Knowing what your client wants is key and more look for stats and how you can help their bottom line. Many companies require measurement of everything and it’s only smart for copywriters to understand how metrics help in their copy and understanding with not only basic web traffic and seo statistics, but also conversions and other metrics that support the client’s business objectives.

    Great points in this post.

  4. Indeed – what gets measured gets improved – or a lot of questions get asked about why it’s not improving. Metrics are a good thing to create the kind of pressure writer’s need to up their game.

    • Adam, excellent thoughts.

      I don’t consider myself a “copywriter”, but I have been following the advise of coppyblogger and focusing and doing a lot of content marketing. The last couple months I have been tweaking and testing the copy I have for the newsletter sign-up, the words I open and close a post with and I can say that I have seen good results as I measure whats working and what doesn’t.

      The quote in #2 is so true.

  5. Sometimes I don’t understand why everyone hasn’t jumped on the analytics train already. Web is measurable — so much more so than any other media. Why not see if what you are doing is working?! As someone who has to wear the Analytics Hat almost everyday in my job, I see the benefit and could never go back to having no data on performance for my marketing efforts.

    However, I do see the other side of this. Data is scary, especially if you are a creative, non-numbers kind of person. Setting up tracking can seem overwhelming. When I stop to think about it, I can understand why some people and business are not ready to take on tracking. It is obvious though, especially in this post, that avoiding analytics for too much longer is going to start hurting job opportunities and business ventures in all types of industries soon.

    • What we need to look deeper at is “left brain vs right brain” thinking. According to psychological research, left brain is “rational” and analytical, while right brain is intuitive and holistic. Not everyone is equally at home in both hemispheres. Not everyone who is a creative (i.e. writer, copywriter, artist, designer, etc.) is good at numbers (i.e. statistics, analytics, etc.). And the reverse is true. Probably you will find a lot of partnering. Just as it makes good sense for a copywriter to partner with a designer, perhaps they can partner will those offering data expertise.

    • Cheers Shane. Hey why not? Companies could create leaderboards for in-house (or partner) copywriters and see who is winning. That could actually be a good motivator.

  6. Right on the money. A copywriter is no longer just a copywriter — at least not in this country. You can outsource your writing to India for a lot cheaper, but to be competitive in the US, you have to offer more than writing. It has to be targeted, focused, driven by the needs of your goal-specific metrics: keywords, target market, search trends, engagement, views, and so on. And if you’re outsourcing it, SOMEone better be guiding the writers with those metrics.

    Outstanding article.Thanks for posting.

  7. Adam:

    Like I say to Brian yesterday:

    “How do you know the landing page is effective? Testing! Spit testing! Reviewing Analytics. It doesn’t matter what the marketer, copywriter, client, etc., “ultimately” thinks. What does the data say?”

    I’m happy you covered the copywriting aspect in more detail.


  8. Good post Adam. We’ve done a lot of thinking about how we quantify the success of our content and I feel there are problems with your proposition. The biggest problem we face is how we separate copy from all the other factors that influence success – for example, we’ve done some great blog work for large companies that hasn’t radically improved sign up. However, the content wasn’t well promoted, it was buried in the site, there was no strategy to market the blog, the design was whack etc We work with a number of search agencies who have shown great improvements in their client’s search results after we’ve submitted content but how much was down to content and how much down to link building activity, directory submission? And in this case what elements of the content contributed to the ranking – frequency, length, keyword position, linking? We’ve created fantastic sales copy for clients who have placed it on websites with horrendous design and tortuous usability – does the lack of conversions mean that our copy was bad?

    If we were able to test multiple variations of copy in laboratory conditions then we might get some data that would be really meaningful but as it is it’s virtually impossible to separate copy from other factors. We can use anecdotal evidence to suggest that our copy improved search results, improved sales, or sign up rates but it’s never going to be an exact science – unlike for example a search agency being judged by search results.

    Adam, you mention that we might have to charge more for this or that we can make a case for access to data where clients are unwilling to provide this – unfortunately both can be pretty difficult in the real world, especially when we are working through an agency intermediary. Search agencies, for example, are highly protective of client confidentiality and their own statistics – not to mention their strategies (which makes it difficult to separate out copywriting from other elements of the strategy).

    To measure the success of copywriting is a great idea in theory and there may be some copywriter analysts out there who have free run of their clients’ data and the time and budget to test properly to achieve results in laboratory conditions. I suggest that those people are few and far between.

    The reality is that providing hard, objective evidence for the success of copywriting alone is impractical and perhaps even impossible.

    • Thanks for the comment Derryck – you raise some interesting points, but I still think those are all solvable. Will address in a new post over on my blog as I think it’s worth addition discussion.

      • Cool – I think there are strategies for demonstrating success but it’s been a real chin-stroker for us over the last year to come up with meaningful ways of measuring copy objectively. I started out in PR and we had similar conversations with some agencies trying to equate the value of copy with £££ spent on a similar quantity of advertising space. It didn’t work. Equally measuring sales against success in a PR campaign meant very little. Happy to contribute further to the debate – drop me a line if you want.

    • Derryck:

      This is excellent advice. It’s hard to get all sides together to work properly. Many times, you are trying to get various key executives together for a project – yet they each have their own agenda. I know from personally being involved at Motorola, as both a project manager and six-sigma black belt.

      Ultimately, the client is responsible for testing, unless he hires the copywriter to offer that ability. This means testing the copy against the control (if one is in place), and other such necessities.

      Then there’s the problem of testing all the variables. Do you test various headlines? This is just one of many copy elements to test. Only clients with deep pockets can really afford comprehensive testing and measurement.


      • Part of being a good, experienced copywriter is knowing the key elements to test — headline, offer, call to action, and sometimes the whole copy approach.

        Our intention with Premise is to take what good, experienced copywriters know and let people who aren’t good (yet) benefit from that. 🙂

        • Sonia:

          Software is not only good for the inexperienced person – it often makes life easier for the experienced person too. And sometimes it takes a couple of pieces of software, working in harmony. As an example, take spam in WordPress blogs. Yet a combination of CloudFlare and WordPress Akismet work well together, to practically eliminate this issue (you can Google these terms for more info).

          I (as well as many readers here), look forward to the release of Premise. I also look forward to blog posts outside of Copyblogger, reviewing the software. I’m sure it will prove to be an excellent tool.


    • Derryck,

      Thank you for articulating exactly what was on my mind. Testing reminds me of biologist Von Bertalanffy’s System’s Theory and modeling. Yes, you can predict the exact outcome IF you can account for every variable. Content is only one variable in a complex marketing system. That said, there is tremendous value in getting as close as you can to pinpointing the most important and effective elements. For nearly a year I’ve been one of the lead writers for a company’s blog. Traffic has increased by approximately 15,000 in this period of time (got this number from casual conversations) Is that because of my writing? Hardly. However, I do bring many elements to the table beyond simply wordsmithing that contribute to the team effort.

      Adam’s post is right on target in the sense that good writers must deliver more than slippery feel good vibes. I’m just not convinced that additional value rests exclusively on the shoulders of measurement.

  9. As someone who’s been involved in a helluva lot of testing, I’d like to point out that if you’re going to rely on your data as the main basis for decisions, you better be absolutely positively freakin’ sure of your methodology. Even something as simple as an A/B split can produce wildly different results that have nothing to do with what’s being “tested.” Sample size, control groups, unknowns, and a slew of other variables all come into play if you want reliable data. Even then, you’re only getting a snapshot of that point in time. This is NOT to say testing shouldn’t be done, but making (and then justifying) a decision based on inherently flawed methodology is extremely common. Believe me… when you’re absolutely 100% convinced you’ve isolated your variables, you probably haven’t.

    • Andrew:

      Good points. Recently, both Copyblogger and Zen Habits (another heavy hitter, with about 200,000 readers and a Time magazine endorsement) interviewed Tim Ferris – all in the same week. Copyblogger did an audio interview and Zen Habits did a video interview.

      Tim has a new book entitled The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman . It has a good rating on Amazon, with 934 reviews, and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

      Yet the Zen Habits interviewer asked a key question on his test data – what was his sample size (i.e. for example). In order to have reliable data, it’s well know in statistics to have at least 31 samples. Yet many of the conclusions in Tim’s new book, are based upon limited test subjects (i.e. 1 or 2).

      But many people will read this book and believe Tim’s conclusions. Smart US people can get a free copy from their local library or the inter-library loan program.


    • Chris Garrett and I were talking about exactly that in a Third Tribe call today — particularly with social media marketing (which is about as chaotic a system as you can get), sometimes it’s incredibly hard to isolate the variables. So you tweak the headline and conversion goes up — but that was the day Seth Godin posted that you were the world’s foremost genius on your thing.

      Ideally you want to randomly serve two (or however many) flavors of a particular page to alternate visitors, to account for spikes in traffic, variations on where the traffic comes from, etc.

  10. Adam

    I would like to clarify metrics. I think that I have found my “niche topic” and writing style for my particular humor blog. I seem to get a lot of views – depending on the topic which is reasonable. However, I do not seem to get a lot of people to actually subscribe. Is there a difference in importance when I produce my metrics re: subscribers vs. viewers?

    I only started blogging about 6 months ago so this has been all organic. It seems that there are TONS of books on improving blogging but they all seem to say – write on others’ blogs, tweet, Facebook, etc. etc. It’s all the same stuff. So there needs to be anoher way to increase activity to another level OR is Organic the way to go vs. purchasing advertising?

    Thanks. And BTW, I did NOT post this blog just to get hits (as recommended by 1,345 blogging “experts”). I really am trying to figure out how to grow this process and your site is indeed helpful.

  11. Absolutely brilliant post, Adam!

    As a web copy writer, I am continually using whatever metrics and analytic tools I can to demonstrate to clients how well my efforts to create high performing content is panning out for them. Business owners want concrete, in-your-face proof that what they are paying you is actually going to pay off for them in the long run. While the world’s media continues to evolve, the rules of business remain essentially the same – a need to see a true ROI.

    I agree 100% that writers can greatly improve their chances of getting bigger and better projects when the content produced gets results. Business leaders and marketing professionals who are wise enough to see the value of an excellent copy writer, who knows his or her stuff, will triumph over their competitors time and time again!

    – Tess
    Taylor Resources Writing

  12. It’s just like copywriting with direct mail. Each piece has an identifying number to link back to the piece of copywriting that was sent to consumers. That’s the way that businesses tell how well a piece does against their control. Only on the web instead of having an identifying number, we have a URL and analytics to measure how well a page does for conversion.

    I use Google Analytics on my sites and check it at least once a day, but on clients’s sites, I don’t have access to their reports. This is where split testing comes into play beforehand, or if there isn’t enough time b/c clients need it right away, follow up with a client is key, not only to add a number to your copywriting portfolio, but to hear how excited they are about the numbers. And helps keep relationship going with your clients.

  13. It seems to me that it still comes down to the writing. Data gathered from analytical, based on, or along with testing is obviously important to the process, and certainly relevant to the discussion of copywriting in advertising and marketing.

    But Characterizing someone as “wordsmith” because they have definite voice or particular style, and in turn dismissing their work as fluff that won’t be successful is a bit misguided. Quite a few copywriters with a particular or stylish voice have achieved stellar results for their clients, on and offline, by writing compelling and engaging material that motivated readers to act.

    The “conversion rate” can almost always be attributed to compelling copy. It’s certainly true that small tweaks can sometimes make a big impact (we’re all familiar with the classic case studies), but if you don’t get people in the door, you’re not going to make a sale, and in the end that’s what it comes down to.

    • I didn’t see the post as dismissing the importance of strong writing. Instead, I saw it as a call to people who are strong writers to collect the data that can show an employer or client that the material is objectively strong, that it does the work it’s supposed to do.

      Even if your employer or client adores your voice, if you can’t back up the strong voice with strong numbers, you’re vulnerable. Clients change. Management changes. Times get hard.

      That doesn’t mean strong voice and style aren’t important, though.

      • I agree. Just like marketeers a few years ago, it was easy to just use the marketing budget and say “50 % of it will work and 50% of it will be wasted. I just don’t know WHICH 50%”

        That is no longer an excuse for marketing. Marketing must be just as accountable as the rest of the company – if you can do this, its a professional proficiency..

        I am only 6 months into blogging and still curious as to what is a more important metric – hits/readers or subscribers?

      • Using accurate, powerful data in your writing is good writing and it’s good copywriting. Having a strong voice and not even being able to prove your point isn’t worth much.

        • Unless I’m misunderstand something, this issue is not about the data including your material, the issue is about the data you can provide to potential clients to bolster your “numbers” and therefore prove your success.

          Obviously material with no factual basis is “fluff,” but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about individuals that don’t have have a proven track-record (at least in the terms outlined above), but produce strong material.

          Basically, my point is I’ don’t agree with the supposition that you have to confirm the criteria above or: “get of of the business.”

          • Well, to turn to the point that Adam made, if your work is getting results, why would you not collect the data that would show that objectively?

            Or to turn that around, why should an employer or client work with you if you can’t show that your writing meets the business goals? If you as the writer don’t know the numbers, you don’t know if your writing does meet those goals. It might be very stirring and very compelling, but it may not lead the reader to take the action desired.

            “Get out of the business was my phrase,” Adam’s original was “get deleted.” I’d say the meaning was the same.

            If a writer’s voice is so good that employers/clients will ignore the data, then more power to her. If it was me, I wouldn’t want to take that risk. (Either on the writer side or the employer side.)

        • To Sonia’s point, I think the two things go hand-in-hand. If you’re a great writer and you have strong “numbers,” you would certainly tout those numbers. But on the other hand, it’s possible to show strong numbers, yet not be a very good writer.

      • The title of the post is quite dismissive. It could essentially be interpreted as: if you don’t do things this way, there’s no place for you in the industry. And I don’t necessarily agree with that opinion.

        The first point in the post outlines search engine hits, social media shares and blog comments (among other factors) as “key metrics” determining a writers success. There’s a great deal of literature dedicated to “fooling” search engines, and you can rack up tons of comments on blogs, or social media shares if you’re cover a topical issue, or something that’s controversial, provocative or salacious. That does not, however, speak to the quality of the writing.

        The post goes on to describe rating, as an agency coordinator with hiring power, prospective freelancers based on their “numbers,” as described above. By this logic, someone with average writing skills, but high numbers with the “key metrics” is preferable to someone with fantastic material, but low “numbers” (whether because of a lack of experience, because they haven’t done things that way or because they’re a bad writer – which is the only real reason not to hire them). I don’t think that’s a very sound hiring approach.

        I want a client to be “turned on” by the work, I want them to be excited about what we’re doing, and that goes beyond “the numbers.” in my experience, clients who are “all about the numbers” are the least fun to work with, and pay the least. For them, it’s all about the bottom line, and they’ll pinch you for every last penny.

        It’s certainly possible to quantify a writers success “by the numbers” (whether or not it provides an accurate portrait), and from the clients perspective, I understand the benefit. The downside of this reality is that copywriters have to focus more on “the numbers” and less on writing. Gee, I’m no good with numbers or statistics, that’s why I got involved with writing and design, instead of engineering. Perhaps this post is correct, and my days are numbered?

        • I would take it more as an encouragement: “You’re really good. Your stuff works. Don’t let some annoying twerp who isn’t as good as you are steal your clients because you don’t like numbers.”

          I’m a lot like you — I’ve always gotten writing assignments based on quality, not stats. But if I was still taking writing clients, that would be the message I’d take from this post — to get over my dislike and get those numbers, to show my worth and try to make my work even more effective.

          You might find this post interesting: https://copyblogger.com/get-rich-copywriter/

        • It’s not about gaming the system for SEO or social. It’s about writing good content – if you do that, search engines and social media will reward you. I don’t think we have divergent thoughts here. I’m just saying, show data to back up how good you are in ways that are easily possible for everyone. Or don’t, and other people will.

        • Thanks for posting your viewpoint … I was beginning to think I was the only person who thought that way. Writing should be about the writing, IMHO.

          I’m lucky; I know how to collect and organize data after 20+ years in IT. What about those who don’t, or don’t have access to it? Or can’t show a direct correlation between the writing and the outcomes? When you ask the people who create emails what caused a success, the coder/designer will say it was the creative (appearance), the writer will say it was the copy, the person who does the send will say it was their scheduling and knowing how to get into Inboxes. How do you take sole credit for what is, in the end, a team effort?

  14. As a blogger and entrepreneur I find this challenging. This was a great post and has my wheels spinning. For 2011 I have to not only produce GREAT CONTENT, but I also have to have the sources to back it up. No matter if I have the BEST work and the top stories I have to have the data to back up what I am saying.

    What Does This Mean?

    1. Research, Research, Research
    2. Produce GREAT Content Not Just Good
    3. Get Reader Feedback

    I have to utilize the social media outlets, commenting, and various other ways to get READERS involved in the conversation. This has been challenging in 2010, but I have vowed to produce better Content, Have the Sources to Back it Up, and PROPERLY use Social Media to promote and get reader feedback.

    Great Post!

  15. Thanks for writing about this.

    I’ve been writing for 10 years, and it makes me shudder when anyone who got a good mark in high school English thinks they can just hang up a single and be a copywriter – or when ‘writers’ are offering their services for $10/hour. The good news is that – for clients who GET IT and value it – those people are never competition for me. And when I lose out to them, I know to think ‘good riddance’ because the client would never have understood the value I was contributing.

    It’s time the entire industry stepped up their game and started seeing copywriting as WAY more strategic and measurable. We’d all be happier – and we’d all make more money.

  16. ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ as the saying goes and to include graphical data in an article can be very attention grabbing. Likewise live links to other sites containing real data on a particular subject.

  17. When I started writing online, website content was one of the first areas that I got into. At that point in time, I really did not have the slightest clue about keywords, SEO and what made content show up in the search engine results. My times have changed in the years since then! I did my own research on what makes good website copy and SEO and every client I had said that they received excellent or positive results from the content I had written for them. After a short while, I realized that these “results” they were talking about were their website showing up high up in the search engine results for the keywords they were after. Good for me, but then I ran into a problem…

    Since I had those couple of years of good results under my belt, I started marketing those qualities and results. The problem? When working with a new client that was not directly after search engine placement or results, I started hearing “I don’t care about where you writing makes my website place in the search engines”, “I’m not paying your rate because I don’t need my content optimized” etc. Of course these people knew nothing about how things work just like a few short years ago, I didn’t know a lot about it either. They just wanted text to put on their website to make it look important and pretty. This truly is not a client I want to work with these days and frankly I don’t work with those types of clients anymore. It’s not helping my portfolio any if I am just writing for people or companies who just want filler text for a lack of a better term.

    Long story short, I am completely on board with data driven copy, but my advice to writers is to watch what work you do take on if you want to be able to showcase your results to future clients.

  18. Another great post! I love your blog. It’s the blog I most refer to and the one that has helped me better understand customer needs. Keep up the good work and take an occasional break more often.


  19. This post brings up a good point but now I want to know more!

    What are some of the better tools to measure those numbers? I use Web Ninja Google Analytics and bit.ly links for my own site but what else is out there? What are some good measurement tools to recommend to a client?

  20. I realised that infographics are very powerfull these days. Showing a graph in a post is a great way to get the attention of the readers, or why not, tell them what they need to know if they are in a hurry.

  21. The old management truism rears its head ‘if you can measure it, you can manage it’.
    It would be inconceivable in an age in which the data [to varrying degrees of accuracy and relevance] could be obtained easily that copy writters, especially as the barriers to entry in their profession being as low as they are immune from accountability

  22. I appreciate your post Adam.

    As a copywriter, I find it very difficult to get metrics from clients – because they don’t measure them. The current MO is that marketing teams are so overworked that measurement gets pushed aside for creating one deliverable after another.

    When I inquire about traffic and hits on my content, they never know. I can push them more, but ultimately they see it as extra work. Maybe they are afraid to measure? What’s up here?

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