Tips for Effective Copywriting
In the first post of this series, I went over copywriting in general, a broad topic. Next, we drilled down into what copywriting is and different formats to pitch when prospecting for clients. Today, we’ll drill into the segment on standing out from the crowd.
Copywriting is the art/science of writing copy that grabs people’s attention. While the copy itself has one goal–get the audience to read the next line, and the one after that–there are elements one can use to support fantastic copy, grabbing attention long enough to get them hooked on the content itself.
Your headline needs to immediately capture their attention so that they will read the first line of copy. Nothing else matters. Leave it to your copy to sell them, unless you’re only pitching on price (which, by the way, is usually a mistake).
Your headline doesn’t even need to be related to your product or service. I once created a flyer for pitching local businesses to use my Twitter Program, in which I write and post their tweets, likes, and retweets. The headline simply asked if they knew that the gun industry during WWII was directly responsible for Marilyn Monroe becoming famous. Later, the copy connected the dots in a compelling way, talking about why twitter posts matter.
Note that my Marilyn-Twitter copy was effective for a flyer, but for an online ad, I’d make the headline somehow relevant to the product or service simply because Google rankings matter so much. (Lately, however, it’s fine to have a headline that doesn’t contain your keyword–so long as it’s relevant to that keyword.)
There are entire books written on headline formats that work, covering everything from the Question Headline to the Top 10 Headline. For example–
- Did you know your car can run on wood?
- Top 10 oven cleaning tips you never knew
- 7 reasons your roof is killing you
- Golf drive secrets the pros don’t want you to know
Subheads are optional, but if used, they should expand on the headline’s message. For example, “All-natural ingredients you already have in your house can replace harsh oven cleaning chemicals and save you $$ Thousands $$”
We all know the “Call to Action.” That’s the bit at the end of the ad, whether it’s an email or a banner ad, that asks people to buy now, click here, get your free report on cats, or whatever it is you want to drive people to do.
In some ad types, particularly long-form copywriting, it’s vital to throw a few “mini-CTAs” into the body of the copy. The first one would be near the top, and others throughout the ad, but no more than once per screen length for the most popular screen resolutions. It may take some experimenting to see how they appear onscreen to get the correct distance between them, but the idea is that most users shouldn’t see two mini-CTAs on their screen at the same time.
The mini-CTA is an abbreviated button or link that lets people perform your Call to Action before they reach the bottom of the ad. They may decide to buy before they reach that, and you will want to make it as easy as possible for them to buy at the time they make that decision!
Differentiate the Product
This step can actually be the single most time-consuming part of the process. It has several steps, each of which takes time. You have to ponder what’s different, possibly for quite a while, before deciding on your angle. Once that decision is made, the copywriting itself will go by relatively quickly.
- Compare the features of your product to those of competitors. Find what’s different! Is it lighter? Smaller? Faster? Does it have a built-in clock radio? Whatever is different about the product you’re writing on will be your competitive advantage, whether it may seem a pro or a con at first glance.
- Now that you know your product’s features, how can that benefit the buyer? For example, a smaller gadget may let it fit into pants pockets for the on-the-go professional. Something made from expensive titanium could last a lifetime and cause co-worker envy. Something with lower-quality but commonly available parts could compete on price or availability, compared to its competition’s high-quality, expensive, made-to-order product. That might allow customers to buy a new one every year, in a market where technology makes products obsolete quickly. If it’s outdated in a year, who cares if it will last five years? It’s not about the feature–it’s about what that feature allows the customer to do.
- What emotions do you want to focus your copy on, based on the product’s differentiating feature and competitive advantage? Fear is a powerful one, but not always best. Fear of being laughed at, missing the best price, not being competitive in the workplace, not attracting members of the opposite sex (or the same sex)… But there are others. Pride is a big one. Lust, or satisfying one’s lust. Greed. Intellectual curiosity. Preparing one’s children for the future. All of these could have a fear angle or a less negative angle.
Did you know your copy can have headings for each paragraph or each segment of the ad copy? These serve the main purpose of breaking up the copy and creating more whitespace, which are techniques proven to improve sales and increase your message’s reach. They could also summarize the paragraph’s content for the skim-readers to get your whole message, in abbreviated form. For online copywriting, make sure you use related keywords in the paragraph headings, but not your actual keyword. These days, keyword stuffing does not work! Moreover, you expand your reach as Google rates you for those related keywords as well. This also improves your search ranking for your target keyword.
Images and Captions
A picture is worth a thousand words. Choose images that support your product’s competitive advantage and chosen emotion, but they don’t have to be related to the product or service itself. For example, if your product allows people to connect with friends more easily and your target emotion is happiness, an image of people jumping on a trampoline while smiling and holding hands would be better than a vague picture of a cloud with lines to other clouds. (Of course, if your target emotion is pride, then the big cloud with lines to other cloud drawings might be the better choice!)
Use captions to show the advantage and emotion you use for your copywriting piece. Find a way to use supporting keywords in captions! This will help to improve your search results and your click-through rate.
Having testimonials is important if you can get them. They provide important third-party validation. Even though people know you aren’t including negative feedback, they still value testimonials.
For long-form copywriting such as a sales page, detailed testimonials can be used. Length isn’t a problem. Even if the reader skips over them, seeing that they’re there provides valuable reassurance about your claims.
Even short-form copywriting can use this tool, however. Have you ever seen a flier with a quote that is used to break up the copy? Usually one line and an abbreviated name, it may be as simple as, “I used XYZ Cream, and it worked fantastic! – J. Meyer, CA.” Note the incorrect use of an adjective (fantastic) instead of an adverb, which is intentional here…
These are the front and back cover quote snippets you see on many books. “A thrilling ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat!” Books used to often include customer quotes in the first few pages, before getting into the story, often regarding the author’s other books–a technique for selling the author’s back catalog!
The final call to action is near the very bottom of the page, usually, and gives a sentence or two to summarize the benefits, and then says, Don’t wait! Act now! Click here for your free report! Sign up for our newsletter!
In long-form online copywriting, it’s often highlighted by placing it in a box. In print advertising, it’s the bolded text at the end that says things like, “For more information send $5 check or money order SASE to 1234 Anystreet,” and so on.
The box online or the bold text in print serve the same purpose–to call out the CTA visually, so that people skimming it can find it. The best ones actually ask you to do something. In the above example, a more modern technique would be to say, “We’d love to share our secrets with you. Please send $5 and SASE to 1234 Anystreet.” You see the difference?
But Wait, There’s More!
One of the most effective spaces you can use is the area after your copywriting supposedly ends. The P.S. is some of your most valuable real-estate. It’s usually used to add additional logical reasons to support the reader’s emotional desire to get what you’re selling.
- P.S. – If you act within 10 days, we will include for you at no extra charge, absolutely free, [some supporting value-add product].
- P.S. – If you order my book on Amazon by October 10th, I’ll send you my free prequel e-book, a $3.99 value, guaranteed!
- P.P.S. – I forgot to mention that the first 25 people to act on this offer will get a genuine cubic zirconia earring at no extra charge! You pay only S&H.
Go Forth and Sell!
Copywriting is a wonderful thing. Yes, it’s both art and science, which can be scary, but both the art and science can be learned. Not everyone will sell a million dollars’ worth of product with one email, but anyone with patience and a willingness to read books on the topic can learn the science part. For most entrepreneurs, authors, and freelancers, that’s good enough. Why? Because with that knowledge you can do something important to clients, do it well enough, and do it better than they can. You then bring value with your services, save them time, and make money for them.
Copywriting is a skill worth learning, whether you’re a freelance writer looking to expand your service offerings or an author or entrepreneur who wants to improve their marketing materials.
Best of all, copywriting is easy to learn yet difficult to master. There will always be a demand for people who can sell with the power of their words.