If you’re not sure what copywriting means, start here:

Copy is the words businesses and people use to sell something.

And copywriting is salesmanship in print.

The Short Version:

  • Copywriting moves people to action
  • Copywriting is a conversation between you and one person
  • It isn’t creative – it’s about selling and making a new “control”
  • It sells outcomes and value, not products or prices
  • Copy is the name for the words you write
  • When you write copy, you are a copywriter

As John McIntyre puts it:

“Copywriting is using words to persuade people to take some kind of action, such as clicking on an ad or purchasing a product. For this reason, it’s one of the most important aspects of marketing. It’s also why professional copywriters are the highest-paid writers on the planet.”

Which means, online, copy is your scalable salesperson. Copy:

  • Addresses a specific audience,
  • Offers a unique benefit or promise,
  • Gives strong proof,
  • Calls the reader to take action and
  • Is tested and tweaked over time to improve results.

As Neville Medhora puts it, copywriting is about:

Getting them to WANT to engage with you….not spamming them with offers. Generously giving something valuable to the person….not just “greedily asking” for stuff. Getting them to WANT to buy from you….not out of pressure, but because they enjoy your content and help.1

Wikipedia defines copywriting like so:

Copywriting is the act or occupation of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing. The product, called copy or sales copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action.

What Copywriting Means: Quotes from Copywriters

Now that you know copywriting is the art and science of using your words to get a person to take action, here are quotes from copywriters to help you truly understand what copywriting is and why it matters so much.

It’s a conversation.

“Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer.” – Shirley Polykoff

It’s salesmanship.

“To properly understand advertising or to learn even its rudiments one must start with the right conception. Advertising is salesmanship.” – Claude Hopkins

“Anything you write is, at its core, selling something. Maybe that something is a product or service. Maybe it’s you.” – Kira Hug

It’s not “creative.”

“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”  – David Ogilvy

It changes your reader.

“Decide the effect you want to produce in your reader.” – Robert Collier

It makes you nervous NOT to act.

“The best advertising should make you nervous about what you’re not buying” – Mary Wells Lawrence

How Pro Copywriters Write Copy

Don’t write. Assemble.

“Copy is not written. Copy is assembled.” – Eugene Schwartz

Make the product interesting.

“You must make the product interesting, not just make the ad different. And that’s what too many of the copywriters in the U.S. today don’t yet understand.” – Rosser Reeves

Outperform the current control. 

“Probably the biggest thing or biggest ‘aha’ moment I had with the process of copywriting was when I realized that copywriting was more than just being creative. …I didn’t start becoming successful, in my own eyes, until I said, ‘No, my clients are not hiring me to be creative; they’re hiring me to deliver a control.’” – Carline Anglade-Cole

Know your prospect.

“Your job is not to write copy. Your job is to know your visitors, customers and prospects so well, you understand the situation they’re in right now, where they’d like to be, and exactly how your solution can and will get them to their ideal self.” – Joanna Wiebe

Sell value, not discounts.

“A big reason so many businesses compete on price is because they can’t prove what value they offer, so they’re stuck with the one selling point that’s a breeze to communicate: cheapness.” – Mish Slade

“We have become so accustomed to hearing everyone claim that his product is the best in the world, or the cheapest, that we take all such statements with a grain of salt.” – Robert Collier

Create a mood in your reader.

“In writing good advertising it is necessary to put a mood into words and to transfer that mood to the reader.” – Helen Woodward

Use easy words.

“Make your copy straightforward to read, understand and use. Use easy words; those that are used for everyday speech. Use phrases that are not too imprecise and very understandable. Do not be too stuffy; remove pompous words and substitute them with plain words. Minimize complicated gimmicks and constructions. If you can’t give the data directly and briefly, you must consider writing the copy again.” – Jay Abraham

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” –  Leo Burnett

Don’t write copy for search engines.

“Do you ever want to sacrifice tone and feel for what you know the search engines are looking for on a page? That answer is no.” – Heather Lloyd-Martin

If a control is working, don’t try to “fix” it.

“I’ve learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.” – Leo Burnett

To Write Copy, First Understand People

All prospects are people first (not roles).

“A business man is no different from any other kind.” – Robert Collier

“A copywriter should have an understanding of people, an insight into them, a sympathy toward them.”  – George Gribbin

Bring a single desire to life at scale.

“Tap a single overwhelming desire existing in the hearts of thousands of people who are actively seeking to satisfy it at this very moment.” – Eugene Schwartz

Sell outcomes.

“Here’s the only thing you’re selling, no matter what business you’re in and what you ship: you’re selling your prospects a better version of themselves.” – Joanna Wiebe

Tap into the imagination.

“The mind thinks in pictures, you know. One good illustration is worth a thousand words. But one clear picture built up in the reader’s mind by your words is worth a thousand drawings, for the reader colors that picture with his own imagination, which is more potent than all the brushes of all the world’s artists.” – Robert Collier

“The greatest thing you have working for you is not the photo you take or the picture you paint; it’s the imagination of the consumer. They have no budget, they have no time limit, and if you can get into that space, your ad can run all day.” – Fictional character Don Draper (Mad Men)

Find the emotion.

“It has long been my belief that a lot of money can be made by making offers to people who are at an emotional turning point in their lives.” – Gary Halbert

Use your audience’s words.

“There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.” – Eugene Schwartz

Write to one person.

“Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.” – Fairfax M. Cone

Be interesting enough to be read.

“Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” – Howard Gossage

Find more copywriting quotes on this blog, here and here.


NOTE: Copywriting is not the same as “copyright,” which is about legal trademarks and intellectual property.