Many people believe that writing well means crafting the perfect turn of phrase. While cleverly chosen words are nice, what’s even better is a message every reader can understand and remember.
Before we launch into our topic, it’s useful to remind ourselves what the objective of copywriting is: to sell a product or service. But remember that effective copy moves people to action by selling outcomes and value, not products or prices.
Frame it as a conversation between you and your target customer. To avoid focusing on yourself, try visualising your prospect sitting across from you. Don’t talk “at” or “to” your reader – engage them by speaking with them and to their interests. Remove any barriers to action: Make your story logical and easy to understand so people can follow you where you want them to go.
It all starts with a great content brief
When creating content for a business, writers need a content brief, or specific guidance so that they understand the brand’s content strategy, mission, and goals. Without knowing exactly what we want to help readers achieve, copy is unlikely to be written in a way that genuinely serves the audience.
To start putting together your brief, ask yourself questions about …
- Who are they and what do they stand for? (company bio, mission statement, values)
- Where do they sit in the market? (brand positioning)
- What is their value proposition?
- What separates them from the competition?
- Do they serve any niche markets?
Your target audience:
- Who are you writing for? What is their age and gender?
- What is their current state of awareness?
- What do they do? What’s a typical day like for them?
- What are their problems and pain points?
- What brings them happiness or satisfaction?
- What stage are they in your sales and marketing funnel?
- What exact needs or pain points you are addressing for the reader? Will it help solve a problem, educate, inspire action, or entertain?
- What are you writing about? Why?
- What makes your product timely or relevant?
- What is your goal? Are you trying to inform, inspire, or convert?
- What action(s) do you want your reader to take?
- Will they be in a better place after having read your article? How?
Once you have clearly articulated your answers to these questions, the next step is to …
Structure your information
Think about why someone should want to read your article and make that value proposition clear. Think about the context, key things that readers should know, what angles most people overlook, and how you plan to organise this information.
Create a content outline before you start writing so you know where you’re going. Come up with a structure that makes sense. How granular you get is up to you, but at least have an idea of what points you’ll be making and in what order.
Limit your article to just one big idea, both for the sake of clarity and not boring your reader, who typically has a limited attention span, especially online. Create structure using relevant subheadings and lists so people can skim topics before deciding whether they’re interested in diving deeper. But don’t fixate on being perfect; expect that you’ll be shifting pieces of copy around and making adjustments as you go.
Know your topic
It’s always easier to write with confidence when you actually know what you’re talking about. The writing may be the sexy part, but without adequate research, you’ll have nothing of substance – or value – to present your reader. People don’t have time for clickbait fluff.
The Internet makes researching much easier than it used to be, so there’s no excuse not to do it. But because everyone has access to it, creating truly unique content can be a challenge. The best way to cut through the clutter and set your writing apart from other articles on the same topic is by using primary sources.
You’ll want to speak directly to at least one person in the business who knows the company’s operations, products, and services inside out. Ideally, you’ll be able to speak to some customers as well. For authenticity, interview people, record them with their permission, and use their language to describe things where possible. In this context, it’s fine to “tidy up” their language for readability; no one wants to sound inarticulate.
Writing dos and don’ts
- Cut the bloat. Don’t use five words when three words will do, and don’t use more adjectives than you need. If two are similar, pick one, and don’t use more than three. Eyes tend to glaze over letters so use symbols instead of words ($, &, %) and numerals rather than spelled-out numbers (7 not “seven”).
- Read and re-read your copy. Look for any inconsistencies or opportunities to eliminate redundancy, remove unnecessary words, and replace long words with shorter words. Shorter words are usually clearer, easier to understand, and easier to scan. They also flow better. Even when reading silently, people “hear” what it sounds like in their head. Fewer syllables create a smoother rhythm, allowing people to read without stumbling.
- Focus on “what’s in it for me?” Remove instances of “we” and your company name and replace them with “you.” Focus 100% on what your prospect gets – not what you offer. They don’t care about you, but they do care that you care about them.
- Explore layers of benefits. Every feature has a primary benefit, with additional benefits that flow on from that. For example, an online course may allow users learn any time of day. The secondary benefits might be spending more time with family, work schedule flexibility, and the ability to go at your own pace.
- Repeat important messages. People don’t absorb everything the first time or even the second time. Don’t assume that because you put it in your headline readers will remember by the time they reach the end. Repeat persuasive copy wherever it will help visitors transact.
- Write a descriptive social snippet and meta description. Focus on keywords as well as readability. Make sure your meta description reads like a normal sentence written by a human or people will assume your result leads to a spammy site. Social snippets should draw the reader in, perhaps by asking a question or telling them something controversial they may not know.
- Get your content proofed. Have someone you trust read your copy. It’s always hard to spot your own mistakes, especially when you’ve read something multiple times. Your head may trick your eyes into seeing what you intended rather than what is actually there. If you don’t have a proofreader, at least make use of spelling and grammar checks. Apps like Grammarly can also help.
- When in doubt, seek professional help. Assuming you have the resources, consulting an expert is ideal. Your copy may need only a few tweaks to make it work or you may need to start from scratch. Either way, being involved in the process – you become the primary source now – will lead to a better result than simply expecting a copywriter to do it all for you.