How to Be a Better Copywriter

When writing advertisements for your business, you’re racing to hold your readers’ time.

Unlike novels or news stories, sales copy doesn’t have the luxury of a reader’s patience. Few will leisurely sit down with your brochure and pore over every word, or analyze your ad to really understand what it’s trying to communicate.

Writing for sales means racing to catch and hold your readers’ attention long enough to convince them to take action. Every word and every sentence needs to mean something to the reader and support your message.

Someone once told me that copywriting can never be too long—just too boring. And it’s true. Copy needs to be captivating and easy to read or it simply won’t be read.

I encourage you to take a few of your recent marketing pieces—a brochure, sales letter, an ad or any other copy-heavy document—and identify the mistakes you may be making. There are always opportunities to strengthen your work, so be open to them.

There are a lot of misunderstandings out there when it comes to copywriting. This is often closely linked to advertising myths, like you have to have a big budget to be successful.

Let go of these common misconceptions:

1. Good copy needs to be clever and fancy.
Good copy needs to get the message to the right audience. Fluffy words, long sentences and poor attempts at clever humor get in the way of the message. You’re not competing for a copywriting award; you’re competing for customers. Worry less about the high-budget ads in Vanity Fair, and more about your audience’s emotional triggers.

2. Copy is the crux of the marketing campaign.
Of course your copy is important to your marketing efforts, but it can’t make the ship float. You need to have your target market identified and your message clearly defined before you can reach out with success. You need to have a strong product or service offer before you can tempt your audience with it. Strong copy is essential, but only after a strong foundation has been built.

3. Only professional copywriters can write effective copy.
As a small business owner, you have a considerable advantage over professional copywriters and big-budget ad agencies. You know your product inside and out, and are actually passionate about it. Once you understand the elements of strong copy, you’ll have no problem creating it yourself.

Here are the key points you need to remember when writing sales copy:

Copywriting is persuasive writing.
Use a strong headline to get your readers’ attention and read the subheadline.
Use a captivating subheadline to get your readers to read the first sentence.
Design your first sentence to persuade the reader to read your second sentence.
Repeat until you convince the reader to take action.
Strong copy grabs and holds your readers’ hot buttons, and keeps them reading.

Just like you did when you practiced writing headlines and creating powerful offers, use your knowledge of your target audience to provoke emotional reactions in your sales copy.

1. Use the word “you” twice as often as “us,” “we” or “our.”
To avoid writing sales copy that focuses too much on the merits of your business, try writing from the perspective of your reader. Focus on answering the question “what’s in it for me?” over and over again.

Pretend you’re having a conversation with one person in your target market, and talk about them as much as you can in that conversation.

For example, “Buy our product and receive . . .” would not have the same impact as “When you buy our product, you will receive . . .” Similarly, “Our members benefit from hundreds of dollars in savings” doesn’t hold the reader like “When you become a member, you will save hundreds of dollars” does.

2. Use emotional trigger words.
Keep your list of emotional trigger words and power words handy when you’re writing. Word choice is a powerful component of successful copywriting, and not because particular words or phrases are unique. A few dozen words and phrases in marketing have been proven to have a stronger impact on target audiences than others.

Use the tools that are available to you to continuously update and add to your lists of powerful words and phrases for copywriting. Research “power words” online, or invest in a software program that will measure the impact of your copy based on a database of statistically measured words.

3. Describe your audience’s problem in detail.
Don’t assume that your reader knows you understand their problem, or the experience they’re going through. Sympathize with them and show that you understand their problem, just like you would with a good friend. This technique builds their trust and confidence in you, so the more specific you can be in your description, the better.

A meal delivery service might consider copy like this: Are you tired of coming home from work, exhausted after a long day, faced with coming up with yet another dinner idea for your family? The copy can then go on to describe how the audience would benefit from the service.

4. Concentrate on benefits.
People buy benefits and results, not features or attributes. No one buys water filters; they buy clean, fresh-tasting water. They don’t buy lawn mowers and fertilizer; they buy a green, well-manicured lawn.

Hit your target’s hot buttons by painting a picture of how the benefit will solve their problem. Describe how cough syrup will ease symptoms, not cure the ailment. Focus on what is bothering or irritating the reader, that’s what they care about. Show how your product will bring about relief.

Use these simple guidelines and techniques to improve your overall copywriting skills.

Tone
Studies have shown that conversational writing is remembered more often than formal writing.
Write to your audience in the same way that you would speak to friends or family.
Consider taping yourself having a fake conversation with a potential client, and then transcribe what you said.

Sentence Structure
Keep sentences about 16 words or less.
Maintain a rhythm in your writing by varying sentence length.
Split long sentences into two, and connect them with words like “so,” “and,” or “because.”
Limit paragraphs to two or three sentences, or a single thought.

Vocabulary
Use clear, simple language, just like you would in conversation.
Avoid complicated, overly descriptive words.
Take out all unnecessary words. Use the least amount of copy to communicate the most information.
Avoid industry-specific jargon and corporate clichés.
Keep language positive and future-focused, using words like “can” and “will”

Formatting
Use headlines and subheadlines to break up your copy into sections.
Remember that most people only skim information, so format your writing to be conducive to that habit.
List benefits and other important points in bullets or numbers so the reader can quickly identify which parts are of interest to them.

The Post Script
Use the Post Script (P.S.) at the end of your sales letters or direct-mail letters to reinforce your message.
Studies show that readers look first at the headline, then the signature and P.S. before deciding to read the letter.
The P.S. can act as a secondary headline, or last opportunity to sell your message. Use it to restate a guarantee, powerful offer, primary benefit or free trial.

Now that you’ve got the basics of copywriting down, use persuasion techniques to drive your message home and convince your audience to respond. Compelling or persuasive writing gradually builds an argument and leads the reader slowly down the path to the call to action.

Sales copy is persuasive because, when done right, it:

Grabs the attention of the reader from the beginning
Supports a main focus or argument
Backs up claims with specific proof like stats and expert opinion
Makes the reader believe what the copy is saying
Convinces the reader to act because there is something in it for them

– Use storytelling to hold your readers’ attention
We’ve all been hardwired to pay attention and respond to storytelling, so use this technique to hold your audience’s attention. Stories are also easier to remember than facts or lists. For example, tap into their empathy and tell them the story of someone who had a similar problem as they do, and describe how your product or service provided the solution. Use the story to gradually build proof behind your message.

– Use metaphors to communicate imagery
You won’t always be able to include images in your marketing pieces, so train yourself to write copy that communicates imagery in words.

– Use repetition to reinforce key messages
It often takes several attempts before someone will truly hear and understand what you have to say, so don’t be afraid of repeating yourself in your copywriting. Repeat your key messages several different times, several different ways. You can summarize your points in bullet form at the end of letters or important paragraphs, or use testimonials to reinforce your message through someone else’s voice.

– Back up your claims
Use the word “because” or the phrase “here’s why” to build trust in your statements and claims. Place short lists of proof beneath bold statements. Even if your reasons are nonsensical, or your reader doesn’t read them, you are more likely to be believed because you went to the effort of backing up what you had to say.

– Answer silent objections
Just like in the sales process, attempt to overcome objections before they can even be raised. Based on your experience selling to live customers, address one or two of the common objections in your copy. This shows that you understand the reader’s perspective and relate to their thought process because you’ve answered questions before they’ve asked them.

Successful copywriting taps into a reader’s emotional triggers, and convinces them to take action. The more you can cultivate your ability to use words and persuasion to motivate your prospects, the stronger your marketing materials will be. All you have to do is practice.

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About the Author

Robert Ritch is a successful entrepreneur and business consultant, and has helped numerous small businesses increase their profits by assisting them in planning the steps they need to take and the order they need to take them, and in identifying and reaching their target market. Contact Robert at ceo@robertritch.com or at robertritch.com.

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