How long do copywriters take to write stuff?

November 19, 2013 •
Copywriting takes how long?!

A copywriter will always take longer than you expect.

Why does copywriting take so long?

  1. 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).
  2. Copywriters can’t write faster than you. Just better.
  3. 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.

  1. A Home page for an IT company (including rotating headlines)
  2. A Services page for a digitisation company
  3. An About page for a mortgage broker
  4. A Why Choose Us? page for a builder
  5. 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

Copywriting hours per page

 

Total hours for all pages

Copywriting total hours

 

Minimum & maximum total time for all pages

Copywriting minimum and maxmimum times

 

Country of clients

Country of copywriting clients

 

Average total time for Australian vs American clients

I totaled the estimates for each copywriter, across all pages, then averaged them.

Average copywriting time for Australian vs US clients

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?”

Quality of copywriting

 

Would the copywriter spend longer if the copy was for their own business?

Would you write better if your 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?

Feel free to comment...
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Max Kitchen wrote on November 19th, 2013

Great work Glenn. However, I can't help thinking that a picture featuring a member of ZZ Top would have been more appropriate, given that I can grow a pretty damn fine beard by the time it usually takes me to finish my weekly copy jobs :)

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Micky Stuivenberg wrote on November 19th, 2013

Thanks for compiling this Glenn, it should give prospective clients a bit of an idea of what to expect. The averages look about right, but I'm a bit surprised by the minimum and maximum times some copywriters have given you. That seems a bit extreme...

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Shauna wrote on November 19th, 2013

A great post on perspective! How long it takes to do something well and why it's worth the time (and the money you pay for it) doesn't always go into the equation. So many things are 'instant' these days that people have begun to question why it takes xyz amount of time to finish something when the person over there can do it in half the time - quality doesn't often rate a mention! Let's be proud to be artisans!

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Anna Butler wrote on November 19th, 2013

Great to see the results, Glenn. It's always a balance between what a client is willing to spend and what their timeframe is, vs producing a decent result within those constraints. Personally, I don't think I've ever written anything that I haven't gone back to 3 months later - or 3 years later - which I didn't think I could have written differently... but differently isn't necessarily better. And sometimes it's a matter of recognising when good is good enough, and when extra time finessing isn't achieving a result commensurate to the time and money it is taking to do so. So I try produce a result I'm proud of (that I hope my client loves) which, yes, might benefit from a little more work, but will get the job done well enough on time and on budget. As far as my own site, well that is ALWAYS a work in progress - but that approach isn't going to be practical for client work now, is it? ;-) Talking of the time writing copy takes, I penned a blog some time back discussing why it can take a week to write a single page of copy, which I think probably complements and expands on what you've discussed here. (http://www.copybreak.com.au/why-it-takes-a-week-to-write-1-page-of-content/)

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Laurie wrote on November 19th, 2013

Wonderful work Glenn, gives some nice perspective and helps me see where I fit in the pack. This also helps with estimating fess and time for larger projects. Pretty little graphs too!

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Anne Maybus wrote on November 19th, 2013

Great article, Glenn. I always wondered if I was taking too long on my work. I hate having to rush my writing. Length of content doesn't equate to quality of content, does it? It's time and effort that make the difference. Sometimes when clients look at the few sentences I hand them, I know they are wondering what they are paying for. If only the knew the work that went into getting those few sentences crystalised and perfected. Love your work!

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Sam Stone wrote on November 19th, 2013

Thanks for putting this together Glenn. I find it very beneficial. I am only new to copywriting, I am also a technical writer, so it is great to see what the average times are that copywriters spend on certain pieces.

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Bec Christensen wrote on November 19th, 2013

Great article Glenn, I especially loved your first point/paragraph. I am often lost for words when I'm challenged about the time it takes to complete projects. Now, thanks to you I have a ready made response (duly acknowledged of course). I have not yet mastered the art of quoting the hours it takes me to do a job, and am always under-doing myself on my hourly rate. Often I do this because I'm worried about justifying the time to clients, many of whom are extremely cost driven. Thank you for sharing the results of your survey, giving me further perspective, and also making me feel like I'm not alone in my dilemma!

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Thanks Max. Or should I say Billy? BTW, where's your Gravatar?

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Yeah, they were a bit of a surprise to me too. Interestingly, the person who estimated half an hour on the home page copy (and 9hrs total for all pages) was one of the only copywriters to say they'd expect their work to be "Excellent – It would be the best I could make it". So did another person who estimated 9hrs total. The rest who were under 10hrs total all said "Very good – I’d be proud of it, but I could still improve it if I spent more time or had a better understanding". And the one who totaled 60hrs said the same thing!

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

I agree, Shauna. Not that I think everything needs to cost a lot. But clients need to understand that they can't possibly get good quality if they're paying peanuts. Not unless the copywriter's bending over because they're just starting out (I did that). But even then, it's not going to be their best work, nor will the relationship last long.

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Exactly, Anna. I'm hoping the light-bulb moment for clients will be when they realise most of the time, copywriters wouldn't settle for the copy they write if it was for their own business. That brings things back to whether it's good enough, not whether it's perfect. In other words, even when clients pay reasonable market rates, they're still getting what they really want. Close, but not quite. So what are they likely to get if they're paying peanuts?

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Thanks Laurie. Pretty graphs! I've never been accused of that before! ;-)

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Who said, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time"? Blaise Pascal? I think it's been attributed to quite a few people. But I always remember that line when a client asks me if my price will be less because, "I only need you to capture my business and mission and client needs in 50 words or so"!

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Hey Sam. Thanks for stopping by. Where's your Gravatar? Would love to see your smiling face here. Especially now that I know you were at my sister's wedding! :-) (Go the techwriter brigade!)

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

You mean, "Copywriting is more than just typing", Bec? Yeah, sometimes I think clients think that's all that's involved. Happy for you to use it. It benefits us all. I've been a full-time professional writer for 20 years. 11 years of that as a copywriter. I still struggle with estimating. It's tough because the writing is a living beast. Sometimes it jumps onto the page willingly. Others it needs to be driven with a stick. It's impossible to tell which it's going to be, before you start. And clients are equally unpredictable...

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Simon Hillier wrote on November 19th, 2013

Great post Glenn, Thanks for going to the effort to gather the information and share it. And, of course, for explaining why copy takes time to finesse. There sure are some very interesting and diverse answers. Call it fragile writer's ego, or just the way my momma brought me up, but I can't help wanting every client to be delighted with the work I do for them. Trouble is, when budgets are tight, it's not the most cost-effective policy :) Ahh, if only copywriting was like law and we could bill by the hour every time we even thought about a client. I'd be writing this from a hammock on the coast of Mexico!

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Anna Butler wrote on November 19th, 2013

I think we've all seen examples of $5 web pages. ...And it ain't pretty!!

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Amen to that.

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

Haha. I agree, Simon, it's very difficult to not do more than the budget allows. Take that job I was talking about on G+ the other day... I put in 20 hours unpaid! Granted, some of that was accidental, but my time management oversight was only possible because I wanted to give them more time to make the copy just right. The problem was I let "more time" become "way too much more time".

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Lisa Cropman wrote on November 19th, 2013

Amen to that Glen! I'm also learning that 'good enough' is more practical (and profitable) than perfection - but it ain't easy! Brilliant post. Thanks for the insight. Lisa

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 19th, 2013

True. Sad, but true.

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Simon Hillier wrote on November 20th, 2013

I hear ya! :) Let's not even begin to imagine all the wonderfully ridiculous, impractical and irresponsible stuff you could have blown that 20 hours on.

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 20th, 2013

Exactly! I have a list.

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Matteo Duò wrote on November 20th, 2013

Hi Gleen, from your post: "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." As I finished reading these sentences, I said out loud "Amen" :D It's so difficult letting clients understand how any information and details they're able to provide us would help generate better copy. They just can't see how much work there's "behind" the actual copy we provide them with. In short: they think they're paying for words, while they actually get way more than that (new perspective, analysis, SEO, etc.).

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Matteo Duò wrote on November 20th, 2013

Edit: *Glenn. I'm so sorry. You can call me "Mateo" and we're even. Again, sorry.

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 20th, 2013

Absolutely! I'm glad to know it's not just me experiencing these frustrations. Not that I blame the client. How can they be expected to know? Hopefully this post will help. A little. :-)

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 20th, 2013

Haha! I didn't actually notice. But thanks for pointing it out. Mateo. ;-)

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Vanessa Anthony wrote on November 27th, 2013

Wow! Glenn, so refreshing to hear somebody break it down for clients so unapologetically. You've inspired me, right when I needed it, too. We can all get pretty beaten down at times by the attitude of clients who don't appreciate the time and effort we put into our work. I often end up putting in longer hours than quoted (not charged) in an effort to create work I'm truly proud to hand my clients. It can be so demoralizing to hear potential clients say things like, "I could do it an hour," or "That's so expensive," or my favorite, "What kind of deal can you give me?" After years of building my own copywriting business from scratch with no nest egg, no net, no start-up capital and acquiring many adjunct skills along the way (WP web design, SEO, social media) I am finally to the point of recognizing that it just doesn't pay to underquote and overwork. I wish someone had been around writing posts like this when I first started out.

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33 software tools for freelance copywriters wrote on April 10th, 2015

[…] BTW, if you’re wondering about the time estimates I included in that spreadsheet, you might find this data post of mine interesting: How long do copywriters take to write stuff? […]

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My most popular copywriting blog posts of all time wrote on April 21st, 2015

[…] How long do copywriters take to write stuff?, 629 page views, 4min 58sec avg time spent on page (14 days old) […]

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jason wrote on October 1st, 2015

Great article and it all makes complete sense. I had a writer review my basic copy for a website. I took me a fair chunk of time to write it all out in basic form so i could give them a thorough understanding. The message was there it just needed refining and perked up a bit. And fix my grammar and remove unneeded words. I was too close to it to properly edit it myself and figured with their experience i would have a copywriter edit it. I was about to find out that not all is created equal. I have a new but very simple product on the surface. But it is quite complex with the problems it solves. Its kinda hard to believe. I for-warned them not to underestimate it in the copy. I gave them everything they needed to write good copy, well i thought so anyway. I even had videos for them to watch to explain it out really well. It took about 6 weeks for them to get it back to me with many revisions in between. What i got was very monotone, didn't speak to me or anyone else and almost didnt make sense, and every seperate piece of work, which was meant to be original all sounded the same and read the same. Was a shame for the amount of work that went into it, let alone the wasted 6 weeks. I believe good copywriting is a challenge and some do it better and they are definately worth every penny. After rewriting it myself i know how long it takes and i know its not great copy. Anyone with expectations of greatness in a weekend only need to be reminded of, how long did it take them to write the their own basic copy. In hindsight I just think they may have underquoted me and were a little embarassed or proud to ask for more, even tho I offered more.

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marc wrote on December 7th, 2016

Thanks for compiling this - a real eye-opener! I'm in the UK, so this might be a very different market (mother tongue and all ;-) but... I'm about 80% of the way through a 100+ page charity website, which I've been given 10 days for. Today is day 8, and I've scheduled my time effectively, so looking OK. I think you also get faster on big sites, cos you know more about your subject matter, but some of these timeframes - hoo! Even the jobs I would consider to be absolute golden strolls, I'd expect to be pushing the low end times and getting very good quality (and I'd never award myself 'excellent' either, on the advice of my solicitors, Hubris & Petard) . Still though, always good to have a reference point!

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NewbieCW wrote on July 28th, 2017

I know this is an old post, but after just reading the first few sentences of the article. I let out a huge sigh of relief. I'm just starting out as a copywriter and was feeling frustrated with the seemingly insane amount time it took me to complete a relatively short piece of copy that I was ultimately satisfied with as a perfectionist. I can't wait to arrive at that sweet spot where I "know" in a relatively short(er) amount of time when good is "good enough."

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Glenn Murray wrote on July 28th, 2017

Don't hold your breath! ;-) I'm writing a series of case studies around Cisco and GitHub technologies, and the most recent one took me 8 hours to first draft. :-\

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David Shields wrote on August 11th, 2017

Thank you so much for this article. I'm not a copy writer but have been tasked to write a page for our new website. I understand the nature of the subject I'm writing about but even knowing where to start from a customer's perspective, a reader, a technician, or just people browsing in order to attract them to the subject, is not that easy. I have started but continuous reviews by myself, evn following day, means that I continually ask myself, is this good enough. It's definitely not easy and as I have many other tasks, roles, to concentrate on this is causing concern. However, we do need it written, so persisting with it and hopefully, will read well and the reviewer can provide constructive feedback. Thank you.

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Glenn Murray wrote on August 11th, 2017

Thanks for your comment, David. Yeah, there's a lot that goes into it, isn't there? Not least of which is the self-doubt and second-guessing! ;-\ But the silver linining: it sounds like you're thinking it through exactly as you should be!

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Mark wrote on September 3rd, 2020

Great article Glenn. I write well crafted excellent work like I drive a car on the motorway in the UK - 80 words an hour max, would love to say 70 which is the limit, but more realistically 75. That's my decision, but if I have a passenger in the car that wants me to go faster, I have to question whether they're the right passenger for me. :)

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Glenn Murray wrote on September 3rd, 2020

Haha! Fantastic analogy, Mark! Thank you. :-)

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