How to Say It: Copywriting Tips
Writing is seduction.
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
You don’t have to be a “writer” to write good sales copy. In fact, it’s more formulaic than you might think. Yes, lots of creative thinking goes into memorable and award-winning ads, but if your goal is to simply increase sales, then effective copywriting is within everyone’s grasp.
Remember the mission: we want someone to click, call, or purchase. No matter what you are writing, make sure your message is targeted, relevant, and rousing.
Copywriting vs. Content Writing
Copywriting and content writing are both used for business and marketing; however, copywriting is much more direct in its mission and purpose — to sell.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is meant to inform and educate the customer about your brand, normally in the form of a blog, article, press release, or white paper.
Nobody likes to get sold to all the time. That’s why brands started to develop their own content rather than riding the attention-span coattails of traditional media. John Deere’s The Furrow magazine in 1895 was one of the first examples of this type of content marketing.
Pretty soon, branded recipe books, coloring books, magazines, periodicals, radio, and video simply became part of the marketing mix. You would be hard-pressed to find a business that isn’t doing some sort of content marketing or other.
Most of what you see on company social media accounts would be considered content marketing. Social media guides will tell you to focus the majority of your attention (around 90%) on useful and entertaining content, using hard-sell copywriting only around 10% of the time.
Copywriting pitches your product, service, or brand directly. Content writing achieves the same end goal in a longer and more time-intensive process. The great thing about content marketing though, is that it stays around. Those old Jell-O recipe books are still selling Jell-O. Click here for a history of content marketing infographic.
To be an effective content writer, you must be creative, entertaining, and distribute your content as far as possible, on multiple channels that are consistently fostered. Some of the most effective content marketing examples involve the customer directly, asking them for submissions and contributions, such as the now-famous Ice Bucket Challenge. Don’t ignore the power of content writing, or the directness of copywriting. They must be used
Types of Copywriting
Just as there are many different types of content writing (blogs, white papers, magazines, etc.), there are different types of copywriting too. The thing that distinguishes the two of them is not the channel, but rather the content. There are many other examples of copywriting, but the following are the most common:
This is your website or landing page. Use SEO copywriting to target specific industry-related keywords. This content tends to blur the line between content writing and copywriting, but will ideally use some form of both. The content on your website should predict and answer customer questions in an entertaining and informative way.
Point out how your business differs from your competition. There should be features, benefits, and a reason to act immediately. If the goal is to generate a call, your phone number should be front and center. If you are trying to increase your email list, then the email sign-up form should be the most noticeable element on the page.
Blogs and Articles
Blogs and articles usually fall into the content marketing category, however, they can also be used to promote a sale, or otherwise generate immediate interest and action in your product or service.
If you are having an event, you want to make sure you have some sort of promotional item to hand out to passersby. This is especially important for conferences, conventions, and recruitment events. Whether you’re handing out brochures, magnets, business cards, or stickers, you’ll need some well-thought out copywriting and design.
Resumes and cover letters sometimes get left off of a lot copywriting example lists, but copywriting works for selling anything — even yourself. You can increase your chances of landing your next dream job with some copywriting tips from the experts.
Fundraising and Non-Profit Materials
While you may not technically be selling anything, good copywriting is absolutely necessary for convincing anyone to part with their hard-earned money. If you are asking for someone’s charitable dollar, you will need the maximum amount of persuasion and appeal.
Catalog Copy and Product Descriptions
These should be short and concise, focusing on benefits and the reader’s imagination. Little stories and emotional/sensory language combined with customer reviews and social proof create an atmosphere of trust and engagement.
PPC Ad Text
Recently, Google expanded their text ads. Read about it here. You now have two headlines (up to 30 characters each) up from the old one headline (up to 25 characters). This is around 50% more ad text for you to advertise your products and services.
Put your more important information in the first headline. Consider using a discarded first headline as your second headline. Start with a benefit to the customer and include keywords relevant to the user’s search terms. Click here for more expanded text ads tips.
What to Know Before Starting:
Before you even begin to think of your sales copy, you should have a good idea of the following (sometimes found in a copy brief):
- Audience Profile – Create a profile of your audience, where they live, the way they think and the language they use.
- Core Message – Clarify the main message you want to communicate.
- Benefit or Reason – Why would your audience be interested? You can’t sell unless you know why the customer wants to buy. Stress benefits (peace of mind) over features (HD camera) and use words, graphic design, and stories to get your core message across.
- Sell with benefits – as Theodore Levitt once said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
So, first you must do your homework. Study the product or service you want to sell and develop a copy brief with all the information you need, including brand-specific terminology (upfront pricing vs. straightforward pricing, and so on). Develop a tone of voice and stay consistent. For most, a friendly, informed, and helpful tone is the way to go.
Skipping this important research step may yield a successful advertising campaign, but you will be running the unnecessary risk of wasting hard-earned money due to laziness.
The Basic Structure
The headline is by far the most important element. It requires a punchy and persuasive hook that grabs attention and elicits an action.
First Paragraph (Second Headline)
The copy that follows the headline should provide further clarification and follow the theme of the headline. Its main purpose is to get the reader to continue reading.
Deliver the content that you promised in the headline and first paragraph. This can be a list of benefits or promises.
Final Paragraph (Call-to-Action)
Remind the reader of the reasons why they should buy your product or service and give them clear instructions for what they need to do.
The basic structure of your sales copy usually aligns with a motivating sequence. Some of the most common acronyms for advertising “copy formulas” are:
AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
ACCA – Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action
4 P’s – Picture, Promise, Prove, Push
Source: The Copywriter’s Handbook
There are some other well-known motivating sequences, such as Alan H. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, which is mainly used to help people organize their speeches and presentations. As you can see, however, the same principles apply to both great copywriting and great speechwriting:
- Get Attention
- Establish the Need
- Satisfy the Need
- Visualize the Future
Whether you are writing for politics, advertising, or a college paper, using this motivating sequence will give you automatic structure before you start, with a clear focus on persuasion and engagement.
Take a look at this list of common motivators from Robert W. Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook and think about each one. These are the reasons why someone might want to buy your product or service. Tick off your customer’s motivations and craft your sales copy around your audience and their wants and desires:
- To be liked
- To be appreciated
- To be right
- To feel important
- To make money
- To save money
- To save time
- To make work easier
- To be secure
- To be attractive
- To be sexy
- To be comfortable
- To be distinctive
- To be happy
- To have fun
- To gain knowledge
- To be healthy
- To gratify curiosity
- For convenience
- Out of fear
- Out of greed
- Out of guilt
Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and think why you might want to purchase your product/service.
On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.
– David Ogilvy, Wanted: a renaissance in print advertising
The first job is to grab attention and provoke interest. The headline is the most important piece of text of the whole copy. As the first impression, it has the responsibility to 1.) get attention, 2.) draw the reader in, 3.) target an audience, and 4.) deliver a core message.
1. Get Attention
In print advertising, it is the title, cover, or first few sentences. In TV and radio, it’s the first few seconds. In email marketing, it’s the subject and from lines.
Regardless of where the headline is, it is the most important element. Most people make it past the headline. If you can implant an idea or generate interest with the headline alone, you basically get free advertising with the pay-per-click model, where you only pay if the reader clicks on your headline.
Most headlines, either directly or indirectly, highlight a key benefit, such as lower utility bills, better health, more free time, and less stress.
Here’s an example from Carrier with a headline appealing to a reader’s morals and parental identity:
“How much is a child’s comfort worth?”
Self-interest is a common and effective way to grab the reader’s attention and hold it, but there are many other ways to achieve the same result. One sure-fire way of attracting attention is with news. Big announcement and new products/services are memorable and well, newsworthy. If you do have news, use it in the headline. If you don’t, stick with a key benefit.
A more direct approach would simply to state a clear benefit or sale. For example, “Wireless Home Security—50% Off.” Use simple and direct language for PPC ad headlines. Clever, thought-provoking headlines should be reserved for other contexts. PPC, also known as direct response, requires the reader to click straight away and then persuade them to take another action—click, call, or write. This usually includes a tempting offer. Learn tips for writing powerful PPC ad text for the new expanded text ads.
Here are some powerful words that should be in every copywriter’s vocabulary: free, sale, quick, new, how to, why, easy, last chance, guarantee, amazing, introducing, now, today, results, proved, and save.
In addition to benefits and news, helpful information is always appreciated and recalled, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Try to remove your own individual personality from the equation and step into the role of your brand’s voice. Roleplaying is essential for good copywriting.
2. Draw the Reader In
Some things can be easily sold with a slick image, such as fashion and food. Other things, especially services require more copy. If you need to explain what you are selling, drawing the reader into the body copy is essential.
You can accomplish this by asking a question, announcing news, or promising a benefit. Use mystery and natural human curiosity to your advantage.
3. Target an Audience
Your copy should reflect your target audience. Think about the language used by old, young, rich, and poor, and tailor your ad copy accordingly. You can use a headline like “How Much Are You Spending on Gas Heating?” to select the right audience right away.
With advanced targeting, you can target your ad to a very specific audience. For example, Facebook, remarketing, PPC, and other ad platforms allow you to target homeowners who live in a certain area, over a certain income threshold, who have shown interest in your services.
4. Deliver a Core Message
“Hybrid Heating Systems Reduce Heating and Cooling Costs Up to 50%” is a headline that delivers a clear and complete message. If you can, include your promise or unique selling proposition (USP) in the headline. If you fear your readers will only read the headline, make sure to include the specific product or service that you are selling. Again, most prospects won’t make it past the headline.
Remember the goal of the headline: to persuade the reader to find out more.
Keep a swipe file of headlines, organized by product/service and by category:
- Ask a question in the headline.
- Tie-in to current events.
- Create new terminology.
- Give news using the words “new,” “introduction,” or “announcing.”
- Give the reader a command—tell him to do something.
- Use numbers and statistics.
- Promise the reader useful information.
- Highlight your offer.
- Tell a story.
- Make a recommendation.
- State a benefit.
- Make a comparison.
- Use words that help the reader visualize.
- Use a testimonial.
- Offer a free special report, catalog, or booklet.
- State the selling proposition directly and plainly.
- Arouse reader curiosity.
- Promise to reveal a secret.
- Be specific.
- Target a particular type of reader.
- Add a time element.
- Stress cost savings, discounts, or value.
- Give the reader good news.
- Offer an alternative to other products and services.
- Issue a challenge.
- Stress your guarantee.
- State the price.
- Set up a seeming contradiction.
- Offer an exclusive the reader can’t get elsewhere.
- Address the reader’s concern.
- “As Crazy as It Sound…”
- Make a big promise.
- Show ROI (return on investment) for purchase of your product.
- Use a reasons-why headline.
- Answer important questions about your product or service.
- Stress the value of your premiums.
- Help the reader achieve a goal.
- Make a seemingly contradictory statement or promise.
Source: The Copywriter’s Handbook
The Body Copy
Once you have gained the attention of your reader, you must now fulfill their expectations. The only reason why anyone is reading your ad copy is because they are expecting something in return. The key to holding someone’s interest is to keep them wanting more, so use language that feeds this interest. The climax isn’t made until the final special offer and call to action.
The body copy should be open, inviting, enticing, and very concise. It presents news, facts, figures, stories, and arguments to inspire desire and action.
Give them a clear vision of your sale. If there is graphic design involved (normally, there is), you’ll want to make sure the text and visuals work together to convey a unified idea or concept.
The best ads are part of the design communication brainstorming. This is why ad agencies have a writing and a design team, overseen by a creative director or someone to direct the communication between the teams.
Even if you have accompanying visuals, words should paint pictures that make full use of the reader’s imagination. Great copy uses visual words and action verbs.
The final paragraph should summarize the main reason or benefit for taking the action, followed by clear instructions to take whatever action is desired. It’s best to provide several different options for action, such as:
- Download our guide/ebook/white paper
- Request a free demo
- Schedule service
- Call now
- Ask us a question
- Join us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Fill out our short survey
This last step is extremely important. After you have convinced a prospect to act, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to take action. If you want them to call, highlight your number in large type. If order forms are preferred, make sure it is simple, intuitive, and secure.
In short, make it extremely easy for your reader to respond. If you can, provide an incentive to act fast, such as a time-limited sale or promotion.
When you’re finished with your first draft, go over this checklist:
- Do the headlines, body copy, and call-to-action flow?
- Does the body copy fulfill promises of the headline?
- Is the copy brief and to the point?
- Is it compelling and persuasive?
- Is it easy to read (both visually and textually)?
- Is there a clear call-to-action?
- Can you cut anything out?
- Is it believable?
- Does it complement the design concept?
- Does it reflect the audience’s language?
- Is it relevant?
- Is there a better option?
Don’t give up on your first draft. The magic usually comes in the editing process, when you begin to trim the excess fat and see it again with fresh eyes.
General Copywriting Tips
- Keep your client and audience in mind as you write.
- Be clear and concise.
- Back up arguments with news and data (if you have them).
- Build trust with the audience and sound genuine.
- Be obsessive about correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
- Use a spellchecker!
- Avoid industry jargon and long, complicated words.
- Keep your copy as simple and digestible as possible.
- Target your audience with tracking codes, pixels, and pay-per-click advertising to send your message to the right person at the right time.
- Use mystery and intrigue to lure the reader in.
- Give a reason for a fast response. Use time-sensitive deals and invoke FOMO (fear of missing out).
- Get personal; be interesting. Use high-energy copy.
- Consider simple, strong sales language.
- Emphasize benefits over features.
- Provide a straightforward and intuitive CTA (call-to-action).
- Start a conversation with your audience. Get them involved using contests, surveys, trivia, and more.
- Inspire your audience to take action.
- Build up trust with words, images, and consistency.
- Always follow through on your promises.
- Avoid pompous and derogatory language, as well as archaisms, jargon, slang, and clichés.
- Don’t exaggerate claims. Leave room for your audience’s imagination.
Copywriting is both an art and a science. Make sure you believe your message and are building trust in your brand.
Use copywriting messages carefully. Nobody wants to be sold to all the time. That’s why every marketing strategy should include a healthy mix of content writing and copywriting.
When you are writing website content, don’t focus too much on the search engines. Write for people, not algorithms. And don’t make selling the obvious goal in the writing. Your audience will reject you.
Copywriting is your opportunity to connect with a customer and tell them what makes you different. A simple word change here and there can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in added revenue.
If you want to stand out from the crowd with great writing and exponentially increase sales, consider rewriting your website, sales pages, emails, and more. Copywriting is one of the most misunderstood and underestimated marketing strategies.
Need help growing your business with copywriting? I’d love to help.