My networking group made me do a presentation about copywriting.
Once a month, one of us has to do one about their business, and this time it was my turn.
It’s only fair; we’re all there to share opinions, knowledge and sometimes exchange business. Giving a presentation is the best way for everyone else to see what a member actually does.
Being among friends didn’t make it easier. Copywriters are notorious for being great at evangelising for another businesses, but often not so great at talking about themselves. Hands up, guilty as charged.
So, for the benefit of the group, I gave it my best shot. What follows are my preparation notes with amendments and additions here and there to make it flow better for you, my dear reader.
I’m aware there must be things I’ve forgotten to include. Different approaches, philosophies and outlooks on certain aspects of copywriting. So be it – there will always be new things to learn, and I’m not shy about it.
During the presentation, I felt like I was talking too much while at the same time skimming over everything. It’s a tricky balance to try to strike. So, here goes…
What’s it all about then, eh?
Introduce that sucker
What is copywriting?
There are some common clichés. The first one being: ‘Salesmanship in print’.
This is a quote from veteran copywriter John E Kennedy in 1904, referring to advertising. Surprisingly, it’s never been forgotten, as if it was carved in stone. So he must have been doing something right.
Another one of my favourites is: ‘Compelling content that engages your readers and gets them to take action’.
This an over-used sentence seen on 90% of copywriters’ websites everywhere.
The thing is, they are both true. Copywriting is both those things.
On my website, I say: ‘Get content to inform, inspire and sell’ – which to me are the three key roles of copywriting.
You have a thing – a product, a service or a charity. You want people to:
- know about it (that it exists, and what it’s about);
- feel impressed, emotional, connected, recognised;
- feel strongly enough about it to give you money.
There is a great copywriting acronym for putting this process into practise: AIDA
- Attention heading/slogan
- Interest opening gambit
- Desire show how product will benefit the reader personally
- Action direct the reader to do something next
Where does copywriting get used?
Copywriting used to be all about print media – advertising headlines and text, slogans, newsletters, reports, press releases, studies/white papers, brochures, leaflets, flyers, labels, dust jackets, cereal packets, etc.
And also television & radio advertisement scripts.
Copywriting is still used in all those things, but print media is definitely on the wane.
The primary vehicle for copywriting now is digital media – blog posts, emails, social media and of course website content. I’ll come back to that.
One final thought before I move on. If you are going to get effective copy written for your business, then you should really get a professional involved. You can try getting an intern to write it, or hire someone on a site like Fiverr, but the results will be mediocre at best and you’ll end up having to pay someone else to do it again. And possibly again.
As the saying goes: ‘Cheap copy is the most expensive mistake you can make.’
A quick look at the elements of copywriting
The philosophy behind copywriting boils down to a few key things:
1. People make decisions based on emotion, not logic
They just do. Look at Brexit. Your customers, clients and readers will always react to elements that they connect to on a personal, emotive level. You can tell them great facts until you are blue in the face, but until they see how your product affects their family, their income, their wellbeing or their pride, they won’t care.
You can tell people how your product can tell the time in 4 continents, is accurate to a quarter of a second over a year, is resistant to shocks, water and impacts, and can connect with all your other devices. But until those people realise the product could save their life, remind them that’s it’s time for the baby’s bottle or can tell them how many seconds they’ve shaved off their personal best running time, they won’t be interested.
This is why you need to get to be very clear on who your audience is; who you are trying to speak to. You have to know that whatever it is you have to offer, it is the solution to someone’s problem. Be aware that it is only those people you are trying to connect with.
I often read through sales emails and adverts and roll my eyes, thinking it’s just another cheesy pitch before I delete or throw away. This does not mean the advert has failed. It just means I am not the target customer. Someone else out there is more than likely nodding at every point and getting a big ‘oh yeah!’ moment.
Sorry, I digress.
2. The reader will always be thinking: ‘What’s in it for me?’
Of course. Why would they want to buy your product or service? It might be very good, but what are they going to get out of it? I digressed into this territory in the last section.
Unless you can convey that it’s something that can really help them, they won’t care. Which brings me nicely onto…
3. Benefits over features
As mentioned, facts about a product or service are interesting, but highlighting the end-result experience for the reader has more impact.
Luckily, it’s easy to extrapolate benefits out of features. Take a small English seaside holiday resort:
Unspoiled Victorian seafront Enjoy a real-life history experience
Beautiful countryside Breathe the fresh air in a wide-open space
£100 coupon book Take the strain off your wallet
A creative arts festival You can soak up new ideas and experiences
Golf course Unwind, or challenge yourself
Waterland park Relax while your kids splash
Live entertainment in summer Never be bored
Restaurant zone All the world’s tastes in one place
A shopping centre out of town Satisfy your retail therapy urges without the city centre stress
The above benefits were pretty much off the cuff, and with thought we could probably come up with something better. But you can see that by simply by making this list, we’ve started to generate a lot of the copy already.
4. Putting the reader in the frame
AKA ‘you’ copy. You’ll notice in several of the benefits listed in the last section included the word ‘you’ or ‘your’. This is deliberate, and makes the benefits feel more personal to the reader.
It’s not just ‘the kids’, it’s ‘your kids’. Nor ‘a car’, it’s ‘your car’.
5. Problem, pressure, desired outcome, solution
This is the traditional sales letter formula, used in many adverts, junk mail and spam emails.
- Identify a problem – do you have a tired old telephone system in your office?
- Play on the problem – how many calls are you missing? How much business is going elsewhere? How long is it taking to put people through?
- Show the reader how things could be better – imagine your calls are being put through in seconds, simply by clicking on a screen, and none are being dropped.
- Offer the solution – with our expertise and resources, we can identify the best system for your office and manage its installation for you. So you can be up and running like a pro in just a matter of days. No lengthy research, complicated contracts or hours of down time.
Again, remember you are trying to reach the people who have this problem and can relate to what you can offer. Nobody else matters. Concentrate on your target market.
6. Attract, convert, close, delight
This is the Inbound philosophy, something that is now prevalent in online marketing. It’s less sales-y, more giving, and about building trust and relationships.
Attract customers by presenting online things they like or need upfront. It’s about putting it out there – using a blog to offer information, tips, secrets; or offering a free eBook or report to draw them in. Use keywords, social media and web pages. Those customers searching for what you have to offer will, in theory, find you.
Convert them with landing pages that work like the sales letter system as before. Or, as many people can be put off by that, a more subtly-toned page that talks to them like a human and addresses their needs in a straightforward, non-patronising manner. You can talk about leading the reader on a journey, but in the end they simply appreciate being offered help, answers and satisfaction.
Close the deal with the readers (now customers). Assuming they’re now convinced they need what you have.
Delight the customer with follow-up, using direct email or social media posts. How are they finding the product/service? Do they know these tips for using it? Have they tried to…? Have they seen the online community about it?
You should offer prompts for them to share their pleasure on social media, so your customers become your salespeople.
That is a summary of many of the tactics in marketing writing. But all these tactics and approaches are window-dressing if you lose sight of the most important aspect of copy creation: THE GOAL.
What you want the reader to do. This should be the driving force of the copy.
As a copywriter, my goal is all about you, the client. It’s about helping your business reach your customers and grow your turnover.
Your business – Your profile – Your customers – Your turnover.
As I said earlier, in the olde days, copywriting was used mainly for physically printed material like newsletters, brochures, print ads, junk mail, white papers, biographies, press releases, blah, blah, blah.
Of course, the bulk of copywriting these days is now online.
- Website content: homepage, about page, services, products
- Blog posts
- Social media
- Sales emails
- Online ads
- Explainer video scripts
Today, I’m going to talk more about Website content. Sales emails, social media and online ads could all be other presentations in themselves.
In general, I get the impression that clients didn’t get into their business to be a marketer. They are busy making calls, replying to emails, organising things and actually doing their job.
Most clients don’t have the time, inclination or the skills for copywriting. This is witnessed in many website pages. I have brought some examples…
[At this point, I will draw a veil over proceedings, in the interest of client confidentiality and plain good manners. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your dirty washing aired in public, either.]
[There followed a page from a website and I read out the offending sample]
I re-worked the copy and turned it into more of a landing sales page, like this…
[Described a bold headline, beguiling sub-headers, clear information, CTA buttons at regular intervals and text designed so the reader could imagine how the service would benefit them personally. It wasn’t too sales-y; I just tried to relate to the reader and involve them.]
[I did the same for two more examples, each of shockingly poor quality]
[I then ended with a quick link to a general Before & After document, based largely on my blog post from earlier this year – click here if you’re interested.]
What you should pay attention to…
When looking at a client’s website copy, I’ll check and re-write it bearing in mind the following:
Making the text focused on the reader – ‘You’ copy, as mentioned before.
Addressing the customer’s needs and interests – Showing the benefits, what’s in it for them.
Speaking in their language – Use terms that readers would use themselves. Needs research. More on this shortly.
Readability – Does it actually make sense? Is the spelling and grammar OK?
Sentence and Paragraph length – Writing for the net is not the same as writing for print. People’s attention span is much shorter online. It’s best to keep sentences to a maximum 20 words. This helps focus attention on the subject while keeping the sentence concise and to-the-point.
Similarly, I’d make sure paragraphs are not large blocks of text that make eyes gloss over. Four sentences max per paragraph is enough, preferably less.
Sub-headings – To break up the text into bite-sized chunks, and to lead the reader along, keeping them interested.
A good tactic is to make the sub-headlines contain benefits in themselves, eg:
‘Learn more about photo effects with these tips’
‘Need more skills? Here they are…’
Text length – Google likes longer copy, as it shows you have more information to share. Make word count per page at least 300. But, obviously, for contact pages and portfolio or product pages it’s very difficult to get to that, and would feel forced, so don’t sweat it.
For blog posts that expand on various aspects and information, the optimal length is around 1900-2100 words. But feel free to really go for it and create a longer article if the subject warrants it.
Key SEO gurus like Brian Dean or Neil Patel have found that their longer 4000-5000 word articles get more hits. This is likely because they naturally include more keywords and content, and a highly comprehensive answer to a search (which Google likes).
Passive Voice – ‘The frame will be restored’ sounds weak. Better to phrase it: ‘We’ll restore the frame.’
Transitional words – Create sentences that lead from one thing to another in a conversational way, so that they flow well for the reader.
The observant among you will recognise that the above list owes a lot to the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. That’s because it’s simple and great, and makes perfect sense for knocking copy into shape. That’s the way I roll.
When re-working one or two key pages on a website, it might lead on to considering more of a total content revamp and a complete website re-write, which might in turn precipitate a website re-design…
There are 3 key website questions that you should ask clients when creating fresh content for their website:
- What three questions are your highest-value clients asking?
- What are the answers?
- Where do they currently find those answers?
The answers to these three questions will give you key indicators for what your copy should be addressing. This will also make you consider how you should prioritise it on the website, which will have a knock-on effect on the website structure and design.
And before you create the new copy, you must also research:
- What words, language, style and slang do the readers use? (note – the readers, not the client. We’re not selling to the client.)
- Any particular words used often, repeated, or any patterns of speech?
- What delights or issues have they had with the product?
Where to find this goldmine of info? Without actually taking the time and effort to go out and interview people, the best way to research language, tone of voice and common words is to go online and look at:
- Testimonals – the nice words people say about a product or service, usually on your competitors’ sites, or a Google review.
- Forums – often the not-so-nice words people say about a product or service, usually on industry or magazine chat rooms.
- Facebook groups – if there is one for the subject or field, then it’ll be full of natural, open discussion and nitty-gritty.
- Google organic search – also known as LSI – the words Google uses to auto-complete a search, or the ‘related search’ terms at the foot of your SERP.
In fact, even when doing just a quick re-write job, I might dip into this kind of research to get my head around the subject matter and tone of voice.
For more on this, take a look at this blog post I wrote on the subject: http://www.lookherewriting.com/2017/03/06/testimonials-forum-posts/
If you want to do more keyword research beyond looking into the list above, there are also many great online resources:
…to name just 3. They’ll show you what keywords your competitors’ sites are working with. And more sometimes.
But this is getting into SEO, which would definitely be a great topic for another presentation, and merits far more attention than I can give it here. But, for the sake of inclusiveness, and very, very briefly…
Usually, if you’ve done all the above, your text/copy is basically equipped for ‘on-page’ SEO. The words and phrases that users/customers are naturally using in relation to the product, which you discovered in the research, are the keywords and phrases that you should use in your text and headlines.
It’s then a matter of making sure you are using keywords in other parts of your website:
- Page tag (the wording on the tab at the top of your search window)
- Page title (what shows up on a search engine report)
- Meta description (also what shows up on a search engine report)
- Alt text with images
These things actually do not affect Google’s search engine results on a mechanical level, but they do affect how people will react to your page on a human level.
Beyond this is ‘off-page’ SEO, which is more technical and doesn’t involve copywriting. So I won’t go there right now.
[I then showed an example of a complete website content generation workbook, including the research and final copy. Again, I’ll draw a veil over that here.]
Using Blog Posts
I have not yet discussed adding Blog Posts to a website. A great blog can act as a magnet for your business, and sell your services for you 24 hrs a day, worldwide.
A blog can be a key element to the ‘Attract’ phase of the Inbound marketing system mentioned earlier.
If you make it something of real use to people working or searching in your field of expertise, then there is a good chance that it will be found and shared online.
Sharing is what you want. It spreads the word about your business, sets you up as an authority in your field, and finally provides backlinks to your website, which is what everyone wants for SEO purposes.
Remember what was said about word count earlier: Google likes longer content, as it shows you have more to share. An average blog post is around 800 words, which is fine. But a thorough, well-researched post with several sub-headings and links out to useful sources of further reading can and should get to anything between 2000-5000 words.
Can a copywriter guarantee ROI?
The short answer is no. There are too many factors outside the copywriter’s control for them to guarantee success:
- The product – if it’s not something people actually need or want, you’re doomed.
- Distribution – the client might lack the means to reach the customers, like a decent email list, or a marketing strategy.
- The design – great words can be let down by a poor layout, and readers will simply look away.
- The timing – something else might dominate the news on your big launch date, like a royal demise, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
Also, copywriters are writers, not analysts. While they can be educated, they don’t and can’t get involved with every aspect of marketing and analysis.
And remember, sometimes results and returns are a secret. Clients may not want to reveal the results of a campaign, good or bad, for commercial reasons. So a copywriter will simply never know how things worked out.
The one thing we can guarantee is well-crafted text that, because of research, is aimed at your target audience using the most effective language possible. We can be sure that it would do better for you than copy not created by a copywriter.
For slightly longer answers to all the above, I wrote a blog post on this subject here: http://www.lookherewriting.com/2017/02/27/ask-a-copywriter-about-roi/
In my travels as a copywriter, I have had to deal with many jargonistic acronyms, some of which are below. Some of you might know them already, and others might find them useful…
CTR – click through rate
ROI – return on investment
KPI – key performance indicator
PPC – pay per click
CPC – cost per click
SERP – search engine results page
LSI – Latent Semantic Indexing
VSL – video sales letter
ESP – email service provider
SaaS – Software as a Service
TOC – Table of contents
CMS – content management system
And let’s not forget:
CTA – Call To Action.
It’s surprising how many people forget to include one. A simple prompt or direction to the reader as to what they can or should do next.
This goes back to what I said earlier. What is the goal of the copy? What do you want to happen? And what do you want the reader to do?
If you have any questions about copywriting, or how I can help you, please do ask.
You can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Give me a ring on 07982 938538.
Or you can just grab my arm at a meeting!
This has been very much a fast-forward version of what copywriting is about. I have skimmed over all the subjects in quite a roughshod manner, so I’m sure there is plenty of room to expand further on just about everything. I guess this is why there are many, many books on the subject and enough material posted online to keep filling up my inbox with new post alerts every day!
But then, I’ll be reading them so you don’t have to.
Thanks for listening.