Ever since the Madman era, copywriting has been a significant part of any marketer's job. And in today's digital, text-driven world it is as important as it has ever been.
The art of turning words into a beautiful composition that gets attention, inspires action, and consequently sells is something we encounter daily, whether when watching TV or signing up for yet another Facebook-killer.
Your copy can make all the difference between getting users excited about your product and making them want to shoot themselves in the head.
Good copy can mean an extra 20% to the open rate of your emails. Bad copy can mean that the only click-through rate you'll be measuring is of your "unsubscribe" link.
Let me just make this dead simple for you.
If you want to grow your startup (especially with limited resources), you must learn to write better copy.
And this article offers 16 practical and straightforward ways to take your copywriting up a notch.
1. Think about Your Audience
Always start with the audience. A press release for a major tech magazine has one audience. Your landing page has a different one. Your demo day pitch is for yet another one.
If you write for one audience but somebody else ends up reading it, they will feel disconnected. They won't get it. They'll be confused.
Depending on your reader, your tone should be different. You may also want to use less (or more) slang.
For example, it hurts me to see startups that talk about their APIs when their audience of soccer moms clearly has no clue what an API is.
In contrast, I can throw in this term here because you, the reader, are most likely in the know. And even if you aren't, you are the kind of person who enjoys learning new things. This is why you're here in the first place.
2. Consider the Platform
Depending on the platform you're writing for, you have different elements and rules to follow.
An email, for instance, has a subject line, a "from" field, a body, and a signature. Tweets have 140 characters with hashtags, @mentions, and shortened links. These two media require different copy.
What works as a tweet doesn't necessarily work as an email's subject line. And sure, this may seem basic, but I've seen people mess it up too many times.
Here's an example. I used to send out new posts to our subscribers using the post's headline as a subject line, just as I do with my tweets.
Lately, though, I've changed my approach and use a more interesting and personal subject lines such as "Shhhhh... Do not tell anyone about this post... It's in stealth mode..." instead of "How to Start Marketing Your Startup While in Stealth Mode."
Such openings would NEVER work as post headlines, but they took the open rate for my emails from the 30-40% range to the 50-60% range.
What medium are you writing for?
What are the best practices in that particular case?
What changes should you make to your copy?
3. Talk like a Human Being
It doesn't matter if you're B2B. It doesn't matter if you're for the enterprise or the government. Every person in your audience, however "suit-n-tie" he is, is a human being.
And as humans, we don't talk in long, overly complex sentences. We don't use 20 letter words unless we absolutely need to. We don't try to sound smart or important, or else we'll be labeled as "smartasses" or a "douchebags" (respectively).
So why do that in writing?
A better way is to be more conversational and casual. Write as if you were talking to your reader in person, and you'll have a better chance to get your points across.
By the way, you don't have to go far to find an example of writing that wasn't meant to be read by humans. Most academic papers are like that. Many job descriptions too.
And on the other side of the spectrum are the companies like Starbucks. They have perfected the art of writing simply enough for a first-grader to understand, yet effective enough to sell.
4. Make It "Wacky"
Neville Medhora, the author of the famous AppSumo Kopywriting Kourse, suggests taking the approach described above to the extreme.
Using his technique, you'll take something like…
"AppSumo is a web-based company that constantly improves its users lives through strategic discounts on needed products for startups and business users."
…and turn in into something like...
"This fat-ass Sumo sends you one MASSIVE money-saving deal on tech stuff for startups (like apps and software)... everyday."
Sure, this style isn't for every audience, but if you feel like yours can handle a bit of "wackyness," go for it.
I've used this technique myself, and it works. My only advice is to ease into it and restrain from making big changes all at once. We don't want people to think you went insane, do we?
5. Use the Content Wireframe
The Content Wireframe is probably on my TOP 3 favourite techniques for writing kickass copy. It works like this.
1. Context: What the readers need or want. At this stage, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask questions from its perspective. For example:
- What is this service?
- Why should I care?
- How much does it cost?
2. Goals: What you want to accomplish. The number of goals should never exceed five to keep the message simple and effective.
3. Content: At this stage, the message is written based on the ideas from the first two steps.
Try it out!
6. Read a Good Book
Trust me when I say that reading affects your writing. Every time I finish a book I can sense the author's style slipping into my copy.
This is why it is important to read books. Good books.
But the definition of "good" may vary.
Sometimes, good is a Pulitzer Prize winning book. Other times, it's simply something that your audience would enjoy. So if you're writing for a group of people who read Cosmo, go get yourself an issue.
7. Have a Drink / Let the Words Flow
Not kidding. In fact, a large section of this post may or may not have been written after a bottle of beer ;).
Seriously though, the actual tip is not about getting tipsy, but about letting your words flow.
We tend to over-think every sentence and focus on making it perfect before moving on to the next one. We tend to edit as we write, and this often stops us from being creative.
Instead, let everything that comes to mind materialize on the screen. There's no commitment, is there? You can always delete whatever you don't need.
8. Talk to Someone about What You Want to Say
Most people are better at describing things vocally rather than in writing. So talk to a friend or a colleague about what you're writing.
This really helps clarify your message, get instant feedback about confusing or missing parts, and humanize your copy.
9. Tell a Story
Storytelling is one of the most underrated skills in business. It's been getting some attention lately but still is far from being common sense for most marketers.
Yet, a good story may be exactly what people want to hear from you. Stories are are in our DNA. Stories are the way we relate and connect, and entertain, and educate.
So, if applicable, consider telling a story. Maybe, it should be about solving your customers' problem. Maybe, about changing the world. Maybe, about a value your organization possesses, be it simplicity, honesty or generosity. Your call.
Here's a fantastic story from Best Buy and Foursquare's Dennis Crowley.
Did you like it?
Whichever story you decide to tell, you should avoid these five mistakes:
- Focusing too much on the features.
- Telling a story your customers don’t want to hear.
- Telling an emotionless story.
- Letting the facts get in the way of a good story.
- Lacking consistency.
You can read up on all of these mistakes in my post from a couple of weeks ago.
10. Use the AIDA Framework
AIDA stands for "Attention > Interest > Desire > Action," and its one of the most powerful frameworks for copywriting.
In essence, you would want your copy to go through four stages: from grabbing people's attention to getting them interested in your offering, to creating a desire to buy and, finally, to getting them to take action.
When drafting your text, set up these four sections and write each one separately, always keeping in mind its purpose.
Here are some tips on what and how to write.
- Headline and the first couple of sentences.
- Show right-away that the text is relevant to the reader.
- Don't fear alienating some of the readers who aren't a perfect fit.
- Describe your offering.
- Your story could be told here.
- Highlight the most important benefits.
- Don't be afraid of writing long copy but keep it relevant and interesting.
- Add "but that's not all" information
- Throw in a discount if applicable
- Add a sense of urgency (e.g. limited time offer) or scarcity (e.g. seats are limited).
- Describe what action the reader should take.
- Make it crystal clear how the process works.
- Ensure that all plausible concerns are addressed.
There's a lot more to learn about AIDA, but this should get you started.
11. Apply the PEE principle
Another writing technique the PEE principle (I know it sounds funny). It works well with articles and blog posts, but isn't as valuable as AIDA to sales.
Each paragraph (or a group of paragraphs) should start with a Point. This is your general statement and the main idea. For example, I started this paragraph with a point.
Then Explain your point. Go into the detail and make sure that people understand what you mean. Highlight why the idea you're writing about is important and why it matters to the reader. For instance, if your point was "Tea is good for your mental health," your explanation may mention the exact benefits of tea and how it affects the brain.
Finally, end with an Example. Show data to prove your point and support your explanation. Talk about someone who agreed or disagreed with your ideas and how it worked out for them. For example, the last three paragraphs were structured to demonstrate the PEE principle in action.
12. Use Lists
- People love lists.
- Posts that use lists get shared a lot.
- Lists make it seem like there's more value.
- Lists trim down the fluff.
- Lists add structure and clarity.
- Lists are pretty damn awesome.
13. Delete at least 10% of Words from Your First Draft
One of the most effective ways to improve your copy is to delete 10% of the words you've written. Such pressure pushes you to stay on point.
This is also the time to sober up and edit whatever you've written in the "free flow" mode. But be careful not to lose the meaning along the way.
14. Ask Someone to Proofread the Copy
Ask your colleague, friend, partner, or whomever else to proofread what you've written and give you feedback.
Ask not only about the grammar but also about the content. If your reader didn't understand something, it may be because you didn't explain it well enough.
However, in rare cases, it may be because they aren't your intended audience. Still, confusion is something you should pay extra attention to.
In many companies, there are multiple levels of approval that create barriers between the writer and the reader. But even then mistakes happen, as can be seen from this example.
However, if you're a small startup, you may not have others to keep you accountable, so pay attention to what you're writing.
Proofread, proofread, proofread.
15. Split Test Your Copy
One of the best things about the Internet is the ability to almost effortlessly split test any copy you write.
The harsh truth is that, often, our creative headlines and witty descriptions don't perform as well as we would expect. Often, common sense is wrong; our assumptions are flawed, and our expectations get crushed with a simple A/B test.
What techniques, frameworks or tools do you use for copywriting? Have you had interesting discoveries along the way? Share in the comments!