How long do copywriters take to write stuff?November 19th, 2013 37 Comments
A copywriter will always take longer than you expect.
Why does copywriting take so long?
- Copywriting is more than just typing. And more than just creating sentences and paragraphs. Copywriting involves understanding the subject matter, understanding the client, understanding the reader, planning an approach and structure that satisfies all three, asking questions, writing the piece, editing it, restructuring it, proof-reading it, then making changes requested by the client (which usually includes asking more questions, more writing, more editing, more restructuring and more proof-reading).
- Copywriters can’t write faster than you. Just better.
- Copywriters aren’t experts in your field. Very few copywriters are ex-accountants, ex-engineers, ex-programmers, ex-potters, ex-landscapers or ex-builders. Most have always been copywriters, or they’re ex-technical writers (like me), ex-journalists, ex-teachers or similar. If you want your copy to read as if it was written by a subject matter expert, you have to give the copywriter enough information that they can become a subject matter expert (at least in the very specific area covered by the copy). You also have to give them the time to process it. Plus you have to dedicate some of your time to teaching them.
And that hardly scratches the surface.
How long does a copywriter take to write web articles?
With the current SEO / content-marketing craze, this is one of the questions I hear most. The best way to answer it is with some examples.
- Simple filler/SEO content – I can physically write a 300-400 word article in less than an hour. Assuming you don’t really want anyone to read it. It’ll be nothing more than what comes out the first time. No finessing, no polishing. It would have to be a paint-by-numbers simple article, too. (e.g. ‘10 simple budgeting tips for newlyweds’).
- Well written, but simple, unoriginal and uninspiring – If you want the article to read very well, and to make a coherent argument, it’ll take me about 1-3 hours to write. And that’s assuming it’s a simple subject matter and the logic of the argument is simple (e.g. ‘How to identify what you actually spend’).
- Thought-provoking, memorable & share-worthy – If you want it to be a thought-provoking piece, the subject matter is complex and/or the logic of the argument is complex, you’re looking at 3+ hours. I’ve spent 10+ in the past. (e.g. This would be more towards the 3 hour end of the spectrum: ‘Mint vs Toshl: Which is easiest to use’. This would be more towards the 10+ hour end of the spectrum: ‘The psychology of budgeting: Why expense tracking, alone, will save you money’.)
And that’s all assuming ALL information is supplied (either in writing, links and/or subject matter experts made available).
How long does a copywriter take to write web copy?
Here are 5 pages of copy I wrote recently.
- A Home page for an IT company (including rotating headlines)
- A Services page for a digitisation company
- An About page for a mortgage broker
- A Why Choose Us? page for a builder
- An E-commerce page for a bag retailer
I recorded how long each took me, then I asked 28 other copywriters to estimate how long each would have taken them. Here are the results…
Hours per page
Total hours for all pages
Minimum & maximum total time for all pages
Country of clients
Average total time for Australian vs American clients
I totaled the estimates for each copywriter, across all pages, then averaged them.
Note that there were only 4 responses from copywriters with mostly US clients, and one of those copywriters reported significantly higher times than the others. But even without his/her results, the US figures were higher. 22 hours USA vs 13.9 hours Australia.
Quality of copy
When asked, “How good do you think your work would be, after spending the above time?”
Would the copywriter spend longer if the copy was for their own business?
Do you still want your copywriter to rush the job?
The times here speak for themselves, but the last two charts above, deserve a brief word. Even after spending what most clients (in my experience) would judge to be too long on the copy, nearly 83% of copywriters could still do better. More importantly, if it were their own business they were writing about, they wouldn’t settle for the level of quality they could produce in that time.
So do you still want your copywriter rushing the job? I know if I were a client, I’d want my copywriter’s best work.
What do you think?
If you’re a copywriter, do these times compare with your own? If you’re a client, what have your experiences been?
Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm not so old a dog that I can't learn a few new tricks!