Copywriting in principle sounds easy enough. After all, we have been writing for most of our lives at this point.
The difference, though, is that we have almost always written to either entertain or inform. Writing to actually get the reader to take some kind of action, which is what separates copywriting from other forms of prose, requires a whole new set of skills. You can learn these skills in a weekend, but you can spend a lifetime mastering them.
That’s why copywriters name-drop the legends in their field (Ogilvy, Schwartz, etc.) the same way a second-year philosophy students throws around the names of Enlightenment thinkers. In a fluid industry where we have to meld art and science, well, sometimes it’s just easier to see what techniques worked for others before us.
Below are 31 copywriting experts and specific tips they have published pertaining to different aspects of copywriting. We have broken these tips down into sections that should at least approximate a typical writing process. Take these tips stage by stage as you draft or refine the copy on your own website.
From Christina Gillick at Crazy Egg: Know your audience.
“Make sure you know what’s important to your intended reader. Research the demographic you’re targeting well. Get to know them intimately before you write any copy. Here are some example questions:
• What makes my target audience really happy?
• What makes them mad?
• What is their biggest problem?
• What keeps them up at night?”
From Dean Rieck at ProCopyTips: Get insider your customer’s head.
“You must reach into the world other people live in. For example, if you’re a liberal and you’re writing web copy for a conservative website, you have to abandon your own views and immerse yourself in the worldview of people who think differently.
“You must empathize with the feelings and beliefs of your readers. They say you can’t understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. So become a shoe thief, walk, jog, run in as many shoes as you can. You have to feel what others feel to write copy that connects with them.”
From Michael Aagaard at Content Verve: Know your goals and what you want to achieve.
“If you want to achieve results with your website copy, you need to start by defining the goal of the individual piece of copy. After that you need to find out how to write the best possible copy to achieve that specific goal.
“If you’re writing copy for a sign-up form, you need to focus on the conversion goal of the form and the purpose of the copy: to get as many qualified leads as possible to fill out the form and sign up.
“Therefore, it’s important that you can leave the ”artist” on the shelf for a while in favor of a more analytical/scientific approach that will help you focus on giving your potential customers what they need in order or make the right decision.”
From Sally Ormond at the Freelance Copywriter’s Blog: Research is the backbone of creativity.
“If you were commissioned to create a wedding cake, you wouldn’t just grab the deposit and start baking. No, you would sit down with your client and ask questions so you fully understood what they wanted, what their colour scheme was, whether they wanted plain sponge, chocolate or fruit cake…
“In the same way, your copywriter has to research:
• You – to discover precisely what you want to achieve
• Your company – so they understand your ethos, brand and voice
• Your customers – after all, if they don’t know who they are writing to, how will they know what to say?
• Your product/service – they have to understand every aspect of it to discover its main benefits
• Your competition – they need to know what else is out there and what makes your product/service different
“Only once they have done all that, can they sit down and start to craft their copy.
You see, creativity doesn’t come from thin air. It must have substance and be based on you, your company and, more importantly, your customers. Only once your copywriter has discovered who your audience is and what will make them buy, can they begin to write compelling and persuasive copy.”
From Rick Duris at Copy Ranger: Mentally raise your own price by an order of magnitude.
“When something has a higher price, we naturally believe the product has more value, higher quality, more benefits. More of everything, actually.
“In our mind, we unconsciously make the product bigger, heavier, more necessary to the customer. We attribute more reasons the prospect has ‘gotta have it.
“When it comes to copywriting tips for websites, this one works like gangbusters. Almost without fail, it naturally creates stronger copy.”
On Writing Headlines
From Sonia Simone at Copyblogger: Write clear, strong headlines.
“Put a vague, waffly, or obscure headline on the best piece of content the world has ever seen, and it still won’t get read.”
From Glen Allsopp at ViperChill: Here is the formula for clearer, stronger headlines.
“The Item: Hype formula is simply the name I’ve attached to a style of headline I see that is both popular and effective. It basically allows you to create a title that catches people’s attention that can work in any industry. The name of this headline style is actually the headline style itself.Item: is the subject you’re talking about and Hype is the follow up which makes people want to read it.”
From Belle Beth Cooper at Buffer: Use specific numbers in your headlines.
“BuzzFeed is a perfect example of just how popular listicles can be. It’s not really surprising, either, given how we’re constantly bombarded with content and don’t have time to read it all.
“The Takipi research found that while numbers work well in headlines, digits in particular are more shareable. For instance, instead of ‘Ten ways to…’ you should use ‘10 ways to…’
“In the analysis, higher numbered lists (e.g. ‘100 ways to…’) were shared more, as were headlines that started with a digit.”
On Writing Persuasively
From Barry Feldman at HubSpot: Be conversational.
“Write as if you’re talking. If you can’t get that ball rolling, then don’t write. Get out a recorder and talk. Play it back and transcribe it.”
From Henneke Duistermaat at Unbounce: Stop talking about yourself.
“Your web visitors are only interested in themselves. So don’t go on and on about your features and specifications. Instead, make it clear what you can do for your web visitors. How can you make them happier, healthier, or more productive? How can you help them save money or boost revenues? And which problems, glitches, and hassle do you help to avoid?”
From Brad Shorr at Straight North: Tell page visitors why they’re on your page and what’s in it for them. Be explicit.
“Websites are a poor medium for subtlety. Visitors decide whether to stay on your website within a few seconds. If you can’t communicate why a page is important to them immediately, your conversion opportunities will vanish.”
From Jon Morrow at Boost Blog Traffic: User power words.
‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstroustyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.’
– Winston Churchill
“In this case, Churchill intermixes words that cause fear, such as ‘struggle,’ ‘tyranny,’ and ‘terror,” with words that cause hope, such as ‘strength,’ ‘God,’ and ‘victory.’ The last, in particular, is repeated over and over, practically drilling the emotion into the minds of the audience.
“It’s no accident. Smart speakers, as well as their speechwriters, sprinkle their speeches with carefully-chosen power words, drawing the audience from one emotion to another as skillfully as any novelist or screenwriter.”
From Monika Mundell at Problogger: Play to your customer’s desires, but don’t overdo it.
“Have you ever been told to feed the desire of your readers when writing copy to market your blog or business?
“You can do this in a number of ways:
• You can demonstrate indisputable proof that your product works, by showcasing tons of case studies and/or testimonials.
• You can demonstrate how they’ll get an unfair advantage by buying your product (needs to be congruent and NOT hypey!)
• You can write about their hot buttons, and drill deep into them.
“You should keep in mind when writing your copy: it is a lot harder to sell prevention than it is to sell a solution.
“Why? Because people do just about anything to relieve pain. They’re less motivated to buy prevention. Pain motivates!
“Personally I’m not too fond of negative-ridden copy that continues to ride on the reader’s pain (hype). I believe today’s savvy consumer wants more authentic engagement and less rah-rah.”
From the Shop Pad blog: Spend time cultivating social proof.
“If you add enough social proof to your description, it can be compelling enough to make a sale, even if other elements are lacking. You can find some good examples of social proof in the number of products sold, testimonials/reviews from previous customers, and media that features your product. Endorsements by key opinion leaders will also help.
“A good example of effective of social proof in a product description is Hotels.com. When viewing results, you can see how many people have booked the same hotel in the past few hours. Not only does this provide proof that other people are booking these rooms, it also creates a sense of urgency that customers need to take action right away.”
From Neil Patel and Joseph Putnam at Quicksprout: Make your reader feel like part of a group.
“People continue to buy Apple products, not solely because they are superior to other products (which is true in some cases and not in others), but because they become an Apple person. Their identity is tied to Apple. They can’t buy a PC because all of their other products are from Apple.
“Whenever possible, you want to create a sense of community or belonging with your products. You want people to feel like they’re a [enter your company name here] person and not a [enter your competition’s name here] person.”
From Craig Anderson at KISS Metrics: Arouse curiosity.
“There’s an easy way to write copy that leaves your audience curious. Start by listing the important points you want them to learn. Then, for each point, come up with a headline that explains the what, without explaining the why or how. Here is an example for a company that makes accounting software:
|The software allows you to complete your accounts on your own, so you can save on accounting costs||Save $300 each month for your small business|
|One customer, Harry Martin, fired his accountant because the software made everything easy||Discover why Harry Martin fired his accountant|
“Next, choose the headline you think will work most effectively. Then you will find it easy to set the pace at which to introduce the why and how into the body copy.
“Writing copy that makes your audience curious is an especially effective technique when your audience has no idea they need your service. If someone is searching for accounting software, a more direct approach would likely work best. But if you are advertising to a more generic audience, consider using people’s natural curiosity to get them interested in a product they didn’t know they needed.”
From John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing: Don’t forget authentic testimonials.
“Getting testimonials to use in your marketing materials can be some work, but it’s well worth it. People love to read that someone just like them thinks your company is great or that your service provided them with a very specific benefit.”
From Ash Ambridge at The Middle Finger Project: Don’t be afraid to inject personality into your copy.
“Anyway, the point is that tried and true, recycled, jargoney, ready-made sentences, thoughts and statements create barriers that distance you from your customers. It’s done because it’s a way of protecting yourself from criticism, and, ironically, from the very people you want to reach.
“Because it’s safe. But safe writing does not translate into safety. Rather, it’s the other way around: The only way we can really be safe, is by doing the exact opposite, and putting ourselves in harm’s way. You have an opinion? For god’s sake, state it. Want to say something taboo? Say it. Hate the way something is traditionally done? Un do it.”
From Tatiana Liubarets at Writtent: Back up claims with facts.
“The difference between mediocre content that fails to convince anyone of anything, and powerful copy that compels, convinces, and converts is sometimes found in the statistics. Recognize the fact that these statistics lend credence to your content, and pick your figures carefully. As a general rule of thumb, avoid using any facts and figures that are more than two years old, particularly if you’re covering web or technology topics.”
From Amy Harrison: Don’t skimp on the details.
“If you want your customer to buy from you, they need all the details they need to make a buying decision. Providing more details also makes your product more valuable.
“Instead of saying ‘get my online 6 part course’ tell them what each module is. Trust me, it transforms your copy and makes your offer look great.”
On Calls to Action
From Joanna Wiebe at Copy Hackers: Use the word “get” in your calls to action.
“Get is the most magical word in the marketing dictionary. Forget ‘secrets’ and ‘cash machine’ and ‘limitless,’ all of which are so-called magic words that set alarm bells ringing and red lights flashing in the minds of your audience. Those are spammy words. Cheap words. We can do much, much better than those words…
“Get’ is where it’s at. It slips through BS filters and elegantly lands right on top of the Conversion Button in our minds, pushing it like a pro. … [I]t needs to find its way into your buttons, and it should probably be in your headlines, too!”
From Karen Gedney at ClickZ.com: Make the reader want to take action this very minute.
“At a recent conference I attended, I learned two thirds of all purchase are impulse buys. In a recent New York Times article, I read many vacation homes are bought on impulse, sometimes without the prospective homeowner even viewing at the house’s interior!
“Forget about your business-to-business (B2B) product being a carefully considered purchase. Yes, it may have a lengthy decision-making process, but you can still get your reader to act immediately by taking the next step in that process now.”
From Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, writing at The Content Marketing Institute: Understand the context of the CTA.
“Where is the prospect in the sales cycle? It doesn’t make sense for someone coming to your home page for the first time to get a CTA about buying an expensive product. In such a case, a CTA such as ‘request a demo’ or ‘learn more’ might be more appropriate.
“In addition, CTAs for content on your own blog might assume more familiarity with your brand than CTAs in guest blogs or other content you place on third-party websites; but remember that, thanks to Google, you never know where someone will enter your site for the first time.”
From Divi Fernando at the Woorank blog: Use numbers in you CTA.
“Including numbers in your CTA gives users confidence that they know exact answers to the ‘how much,’ ‘how many’ or ‘how long’ questions. This makes them more likely to click.
Take this blog title, for instance. If we had included 40 tips for a great call-to-action and you were in a hurry you may not have clicked through. Since there are only five, and you knew this from the title, here you are.
“To play devil’s advocate, not all CTAs can be represented with numbers. If this is true in your case give a good description of what exactly the user gets from clicking the CTA. But if you really think hard, or tweak your CTA in some way you could probably represent a numerical quantity in the following ways:
• The time it takes to complete the action after the user clicks the CTA button.
• A discount in dollar or percentage value.
• The number of days of a free trial.
• The price of the product or service, especially if it is competitive.
• The time period the offer is valid for (also creates urgency).
• The number of current subscribers/downloads, etc.”
From Anne Murphy at Kapost’s Marketeer blog: Put a CTA in the first paragraph of a promotional email.
“[P]eople don’t always read the whole thing. Even if they open your email, they might skim the first paragraph, glimpse at images, headlines, and buttons, then carry on with their day.
“Take advantage of every second of attention you get by drawing your readers to an immediate, clear CTA.”
On Optimizing Your Copy
From Peep Laja at ConversionXL: Split test.
“The most straightforward way of knowing when your copy is effective is to always be testing against a control.
“At every point in this process, new ideas for improvement will come to you. Don’t let those go to waste. Test new headlines, add clarity to value propositions, and include new discoveries about your customers.”
From Christina Walker: Make your copy skimmable.
“The best ways for a web copywriter to make your web copy skimmable are:
• Subheadings every 400 words, new step, or major idea
• Short paragraphs (3-5 lines maximum)
• Occasional one-line paragraphs
• Bullets and numbered lists”
From James Chartrand at Men With Pens: Edit aggressively.
“So with each paragraph you write, ask yourself, ‘Does this contribute to the message? Does this help me achieve my goal?’ If the answer is yes, then great. Go for it. But if you could remove that sentence, that paragraph, or that section and still maintain the integrity and emotional impact of the piece, take it out.”
From Erin Hogg at Marketing Sherpa: Proofread backward.
“This may seem a little strange, but the best tips usually are.
“From my experience, going through content one sentence at a time backwards is a surprisingly great way to catch problems in the copy.
“Incorrect punctuation, extra or double words and other issues that might have been skimmed over normally, can be singled out quickly by reading it backwards.”
From Alex Chris at ReliableSoft.net: Make your copy readable for search engines and humans alike.
“When it comes to SEO copywriting, beautify is about making your text look good both for your readers and for search engines as well. Don’t just throw text on a page and expect that anyone will read it. Spend some time and work on your copy both for SEO purposes but also for readability:
• Make proper use of H1 and H2
• Use small paragraphs
• Use a font that users can read easily
• Use bold / italics to draw the reader’s attention to important points
• Make your copy suitable for skimming by using headings, sections, lists, etc.”
From Dan Norris at WPCurve: Use a checklist to make sure you’ve covered everything.
“A great way to do that is compare your copy to a copywriting checklist of some sort. My favorite is Dane Maxwell’s copywriting checklist, you can use this to structure your post. Here are the elements:
1. Instant clarity headline (clear, focus on the result the customer wants, address objections if you can)
2. Declare the problem (what is the situation of your readers right now before consuming your content)
3. Present your solution (what it does, how it solves the problem, features and benefits)
4. Borrow credibility (verifiable evidence, physical presence, personal info)
5. Social proof (what are other people doing, number of users / subscribers, badges etc)
6. Testimonials (specific quotes from people work well if you can include them)
7. Clear call to take action (obvious opt in, more on this later)
8. Reverse all risk (address their objections and lower friction and risk)”
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