Copywriting’s a funny sort of business. Defined as the act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing, it can be ridiculously persuasive… or really, really bad.
We’ve all landed on those websites where we want to high-five the copywriter. Their copy is creative, funny, punchy and evocative. It makes you want to buy the product, or sign up to the newsletter, or share the relevant link with your friends. The copywriter hasn’t just rearranged words to make things sell better – they’ve reimagined whatever it is they’re promoting from the point of view of the consumer, and made the brand or business seem relatable.
We’ve also all landed on those websites where we want to cringe for the copywriter. Their copy is generic, clichéd, sloppy and sleazy. It makes you doubt the credibility of the product, inch away from engaging with the brand, or search for an alternative website that you can share with friends. The copywriter has simply gone straight for the hard sell and overstuffed their copy with pretentious descriptions, unnecessary adjectives, obvious sales spin and embarrassing typos.
Don’t be that website.
Most businesses rely on having smart, compelling and engaging copy for their websites, marketing collateral or social media content. So I’ve put together my top ten copywriting tips to help you ensure your copy flows, sells and becomes shareable.
What makes me so qualified to offer advice? Well, I’ve been working as a copywriter for a while now. But also, to avoid too much bias in this post, I’ve crowdsourced copywriting tips from some of the web’s best copywriters, bloggers, journalists and content marketers. You’re welcome!
Here are ten ways to create clean, concise and creative copy that steers clear of marketing drivel and makes your business’s marketing more successful.
1. Speak your ideal customer’s language
Helen Nesterenko, founder and CEO of Writtent.com, emphasizes the importance of writing in a language that your ideal customer can relate to and appreciate.
“If you’re stuck writing, go back and make sure everything sounds the way your customers think. Put yourself in their shoes. Make yourself invisible. Not only will your copy get better for the exercise, but getting out of your own way like this can jumpstart new ideas and illuminate what should come next.”
In other words, if you’re trying to get your ideal customer to take a particular action, make sure you’re writing in a style and tone that will resonate with them. Think about who your ideal customer is before you start to draft copy and identify their pain points, online preferences, what they’re really buying and their consumer mindset. It may sound obvious, but the best way to write great copy is by getting inside your customer’s head.
A customer-focused approach to marketing communications involves using everyday language – the language in which people think. Don’t try to sound too lofty or academic when you write. Use the common vernacular. As Helen observes,
“Speaking in [your customer’s] language helps prospects get to know, like, and trust you because they recognize themselves in your words. That helps you connect and build relationships with them, and more easily persuade them.”
Ask yourself whether your copy is free of jargon and adopts a conversational style before publishing anything. If it can’t be understood by someone unfamiliar with the nitty-gritty of your business or industry, it won’t be able to convince and convert as many customers as you may like.
2. Avoid clichés (like the plague)
There are a lot of clichés about sales and marketing out there. You could even say that marketing clichés are a dime a dozen.
To create a compelling offer, you need to empathise with people and earn their trust. And people tend to distrust clichés. They’re corny and annoying – and often meaningless – and when you’re communicating with potential customers, they can seriously damage your credibility.
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, clichés imply there’s nothing really special or original about what’s being said or offered. Secondly, clichés can sound cheesy and a little fake.
Clichés play a part in our daily lexicon but they make for weak professional writing. While it’s important to write copy in a conversational style, it’s also important to make sure no tired language or hackneyed phrases creep in.
For example, a business may describe themselves as ‘results-orientated’ or ‘results-driven’ on their homepage… but what does this really mean? A customer wouldn’t want a company or service that is anything less. Furthermore, a business that isn’t ‘results-driven’ is either bankrupt or in the embryonic stage!
In a similar vein, claiming ‘we offer bespoke solutions’ is a fancy, convoluted way of saying ‘we offer custom solutions’. The cliché ‘we go the extra mile’ is frustratingly unspecific – how do you go the extra mile? For whom? How does your business even measure a mile?
Be specific and cite examples wherever you can. Clichéd writing may come easily – even naturally – but the best copy features original metaphors and pertinent data.
3. Find your Unique Selling Proposition
Gail Goodman, author and former CEO of Constant Contact, stresses the importance of finding a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) before developing any copy. The proposition has to be strong enough to both educate and entice customers.
“The more your offer stands out from the competition, the better your chances of getting a response. Rosser Reeves, the author of Reality in Advertising, defines the unique selling proposition as a promotion that offers ‘something that competitors do not, or will not, offer…’ The proposition must be strong enough to pull new customers to the product.”
To be successful, every business or brand must differentiate itself from the others on the market by promising something different or better, and following through on that promise. A USP increases the perceived value, expertise and credibility of an offering – and clever copy will articulate its appeal.
For example, in the 1960s, Domino’s was just a small pizza restaurant in Michigan. The owners wanted to increase revenue and grow a franchise so they created a strong USP to stand out in the very crowded pizza delivery market. It was encapsulated in this very straightforward, easy to understand and enticing line of copy: ‘Pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free.’
I probably don’t need to tell you that this led to great success for Domino’s – globally, the company expects to have 4,550 stores within the decade. But you can clearly see why it’s important to have a USP when you’re offering something that a ton of other businesses or brands already do – otherwise, you’re just promoting the same schtick that every other company does.
Developing a great USP from a copywriter’s perspective again relies on a decent amount of audience research and thorough consideration of what will make customers return to your brand and prefer you to competitors. In the case of Domino’s, for example, it was that customers wanted pizza delivered within a reliable timeframe and responded positively to the idea that they would be recompensed (and get a free meal) if it wasn’t.
Successful copy will condense the ‘hook’ of returning to your brand or business for customers, and highlight what you have that your competitors can’t deliver.
4. Cut to the chase
Matt Press, owner of Splash Copywriters, believes that copy must be customer-centric and to-the-point in order to properly engage and resonate with potential and return customers.
“What you’ve got to say about your business isn’t important; what your audience needs to hear is. Most business owners have million-and-one things that they want to get across. As a result, their copy comes across as me, me, me. Don’t make that mistake – forget about your agenda. In a commercial environment, readers will always be thinking ‘what’s in it for me’. As such, business copy needs to be benefit-driven. The value of what you’re selling needs to be extremely clear from the start.”
Basically, have a purpose behind everything you write. Lots of marketers make the mistake of creating heaps of content for content’s sake or writing overly verbose copy that nobody properly reads.
Reframe your thinking to reflect the understanding that every piece of website copy has a role to play. Try to avoid going on and on about your product or service and its myriad of benefits – focus on the specific benefit the customer is looking for.
The quickest way to turn website copy into sales drivel is to list lots of fake benefits with a lot of filler text. To avoid doing this, write down the goals of each piece of copy you write. Use simple and direct language to convey integrity and transparency.
For instance, instead of writing, ‘If you’d like to join thousands of others in reading our weekly digest and keeping up to date with our achievements and product launches, simply add your email address in the handy form below and we’ll send you an email congratulating you on becoming a member of our valued customer database’, just write, ‘Add your email address and click join now.’
It’s simple and effective, with no pussyfooting around.
5. Follow the AIDA formula
Hassan Ud Deen, a copywriter for Unbounce, swears by adhering to the AIDA formula for creating copy.
“When writing copy, it’s easy to find yourself staring at a blank page wondering, ‘What’s next?’ That’s where the AIDA formula (by copywriter Gary Halbert) comes in handy. It’s a formula that allows you to consistently create a smooth, strong sales message that grabs your reader’s attention and keeps them interested.”
So what does AIDA stand for? According to Deen, it can be summed up as follows:
- Attention: This is where you snag your prospects’ attention with a benefit-driven headline and introduction that makes them want to read on.
- Interest: This is where you cultivate the interest of your prospects, and invest them in your copy by describing how your pain-solving product or service can benefit their lives.
- Desire: This is where you pump up their desire for what you’re selling with a bullet point list that spells out the key benefits of your product or service.
- Action: This is where you invite your prospect to take action, usually by inviting them to make an order, sign a form or another similar call-to-action.
Using AIDA is a pretty rock-solid copywriting formula to reap strong sales results – plus, working from a formula eliminates the guesswork that can lead to bad copy.
6. Use data to support, not lead
Neil Patel, in an article for HubSpot, points out that data should be used to support articles, but never lead the article themselves.
“Too often, we unleash mountains of data, charts, graph, statistics, and information to try and convince people how awesome our products or services are. But that’s not the way to win customers. Yes, data is important, but it’s not the most important thing.
Data tends to throw cold water on passion and excitement, which is a strong feature of sellable content. So, while I encourage you to keep that data in the game, don’t use it as your first feature of persuasion.”
Velocity Partners created a slideshow (which Neil refers to) that expresses this theory as such: ‘Data is support, not substance’. It’s a good mantra to stick to.
A few ways in which you can support your copy with data include:
- Facts and stats
- Case studies
- Success stories
7. Add an element of surprise
Bella Beth Cooper, a writer for Buffer, believes that our brains are hardwired to enjoy new experiences. That’s why adding an element of surprise to your copy can be a smart move.
“Presenting something unexpected – breaking a pattern – will help you to capture attention, according to research. This works in two parts: surprise captures our attention initially, and interest holds it. Why is this so powerful?… Surprises are more stimulating for us.”
This doesn’t mean you need to write all in capital letters or cram your copy with quirky facts, just surprise your audience with new, accurate information delivered in a creative manner. Surprises work particularly well in headlines because the human brain loves novelty. Sometimes you can literally splice in the word ‘surprise’ to really bring this technique home and pique your readers’ curiosity.
For example, 23 Surprising Facts About Being an Entrepreneur instantly creates intrigue while The surprising history of Twitter’s hashtag and 4 ways to get the most out of them promises both novelty and value.
Try to stockpile any relevant facts or insights you may have about your industry or niche, and use them to fascinate and beguile readers.
8. Inject some personality
Julia McCoy, the CEO of Express Writers, believes that modern businesses should integrate more personality into their copywriting efforts to create a memorable voice and brand persona.
“Creating a persona through which you can reach out to the audience is important in developing great copy. As far as copywriting tips go, this one is particularly important in the twenty-first century. The reason why is because a lot of people think that ad copy is ‘lame’. They have an aversion towards being sold to. By developing a persona, you jump this hurdle by making your interaction with the user more about what they can gain out of your product.”
As Julia points out, today’s customers have become disillusioned by big businesses and are now seeking the human element when they engage with a brand or business. Developing a rapport with customers by using a unique style and voice is an extension of your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and a key way to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Create a style guide for all the copy you write that covers web copy, social media content and other marketing collateral. Define your personality – it is witty? Intuitive? Edgy? Packed with puns?
Write copy that reflects the people behind the products or services, and don’t be afraid to add personality to instruct, contextualize or alleviate concerns. Rhetorical questions also get readers thinking for themselves. (You didn’t possibly think I would write that, did you?)
9. Check the ratio of ‘you’ vs. ‘we’
Copywriting is all about crafting content that reaches the niche needs of consumers – so copy should always be customer-centric. That’s why using an active voice to speak directly to prospects will yield better results, and why you need to make sure your copy uses ‘you’ at least twice as often as it uses ‘we’ or your brand’s name.
For example, ‘We teach you how to be better at social media marketing and we share actionable information that has helped us improve our marketing’ is not nearly as compelling as ‘You already know social media marketing is powerful, but may not have had that much success interacting with your customers. Sign up to learn how to become more persuasive and receive free insights that we know, from personal experience, will help score you ‘likes’.”
When you make an effort to repeatedly use the pronoun ‘you’, you’ll automatically focus on your customer’s desires and wants. Check out Intrepid Travel’s website for another example – the copy talks directly to the audience (lots of ‘you’) while vividly evoking the exciting experiences ahead for customers.
10. Make your copy visually appealing
Jennifer Ross, a contributor to Copypress, points out that copy must be visually appealing to its target audience in order to stand out and flow smoothly.
“When you want to change the perspective of the audience you are dealing with, you need to ensure that your copy is visually appealing and attractive enough to get people’s attention. There are many fiascos out there that you may have seen due to dull and unattractive copy that audiences couldn’t connect with. Use fonts, textures, and colors in a manner that seems rich and gets attention from people.”
Your copy should be scannable, particularly if it is published on the web. Break up bulky paragraphs with pull quotes and sub headings, and use plenty of paragraph breaks to make your copy visually less imposing. This is the digital era, where people’s attention spans are notoriously short. Make sure your copy is inviting to look at and ensure it has what copywriting coach David Garfinkel refers to as ‘eye appeal’.
Find relevant, high quality images to complement your copy and ensure your webpage loads quickly and displays appropriately. You may think, ‘But I’m a copywriter! This isn’t my domain!’ But like it or not, there are certain visual aspects you need to attend to if you wish to create copy that converts customers.
Obviously, this list of tips could include more than ten items – copywriting is a complicated business. After all, words are needed everywhere.
However, the copywriting tips above should hold you in good stead when it comes to crafting your next piece of copy. Research and plan your message, and think deeply about who your ideal customer or target audience is. Back up your claims with relevant data and don’t forget to write in a style that really resonates with your audience.
Like any form of persuasion, good copy requires a goal and a strategy. It doesn’t just happen without effort so use the tips above and elsewhere on the internet to optimize your process.
Feel free to share any copywriting tips that you feel are helpful in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!