The Copywriting Conundrum
It’s that maddening, gaping gorge between good words and bad, a do or die for the marketers amongst us.
Creating good copy is no mean feat. Creating great copy is a leap few ever take.
And for us mere mortals, there are those niggling, but crucial questions:
- Have I written it correctly?
- Am I sending the right message?
- Am I taking the right tone?
- Is it credible and convincing?
They’re the plague of the copywriter clan, a weevil on a sweet potatoe.
But whether you’re writing long or short copy for web, print, billboards, TV or email, the basics are always the same.
This article outlines some top tips for writing persuasive copy targeted at your audience.
While they may not take you quite to Pulitzer-prize-winning territory, they will help you craft a more powerful and potent message.
1. Make it lean and keep ’em keen
Whether you’re talking financial theory or bog standard widgets, make your copy as simple as possible for your audience to understand.
And believe me – simple can be a hard thing to do.
But none of us likes to have to think too much. Long sentences and complex terminology mean you have to unravel what’s written before you.
- Keep phrases short
- Stick to the ‘one idea, one paragraph’ rule
- Cut out the fluff
- Stay on subject
That’s not to say you can’t develop a concept where useful, just keep it lean.
2. Create for the ‘scanners’ of the nation
We all do it. We scan the page. There are lots of reasons for this, not least that there’s just so much out there crying out to be read.
Research shows that users usually read web pages by horizontally scanning the upper part of the page first, moving down a little before reading across in a second horizontal movement. They finish up by scanning content on the left-hand side in a vertical movement.
Seems we’re partial to the F shape.
So what does this mean for creating copy?
- Make sure your key points are in bold
- Again, keep those paragraphs short
- Use bullets and lists
- Be generous with subheadings
- Load important information upfront, placing primary benefits and Call To Actions above the fold
3. Stay active and avoid the passive slump
Consider these two sentences:
- This webinar explains all the things you need to know about creating good copy.
- All the things you need to now about good copy are explained in this webinar.
Which one works for you? If you’re like most, you’ll say the first. This is because it’s an active sentence – one where the subject (here the webinar) is doing the action.
Using the active over the passive voice keeps your copy dynamic and your audience engaged.
Active sentences are less grammatically complex than passive ones and easier for the brain to process. As a result, they’re more persuasive.
4. Use language for empathy and involvement
Speaking directly with (rather than to) your audience gives a more inclusive reading (or watching) experience. What is appropriate for tone and language will vary depending on situation and subject, but in general, using ‘you’ and ‘your’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ is a winner.
- When we come together as a group we can achieve far more than when we act alone.
- When groups come together they achieve far more than someone acting alone.
Your choice, but the first is nearly always the more engaging. The second, by contrast, can distance your reader from the discussion at hand.
5. Seek out the pain points
Describe the problem, understand what your readers are experiencing and take it out for a really good spin.
(For this one you have to know your audience in depth and that’s where it pays to build up your buyer personas).
For a quick, short format example, think of the old Anadin ads, successfully run for so many years.
Tense, nervous headache, nothing acts faster than Anadin.
Here you have the problem, multiplied by 2 (the headache pain plus the time it can take to relieve it) leading to the solution. Simple, convincing, and known to have converted many!
This cracking message from GymIt is not only funny, it gets straight into the minds of its customers. It directly addresses something that makes them uncomfortable (having to make excuses for leaving a gym) and is stopping them from signing up.
In longer form copy especially, hold off on presenting the solution until your preliminary work is done. In some cases that could even be in a follow-up web page, email or article.
6. A positive mental attitude (PMA) is not just a US invention
Cutting out the don’ts, and racking up the do’s, generally creates a more positive feeling.
There are always two ways of presenting information or conveying a message. One is framed in the positive and the other in the negative.
We’re back to the two sentence layout here. This is an example from a South African road-safety campaign in 2006.
- Don’t drink and drive.
- Drive dry.
Instead of choosing the obvious first option as their key message, the campaign writers created the second.
On the surface, there are few differences between the two. But although the second carries the same implicit warning as the first, it’s presented in a positive frame.
And positive frames are met with more positive emotional reactions than the negative alternative.
7. Boring generalisations make for yawn aloud copy
‘We have offices throughout the world’. ‘Our clients trust us to deliver on time’. We’ve all seen them, the same tired, old claims rolled out yet once again.
Instead, try ‘Whether New York, Dublin or Delhi, we have an office based close to you’.
Transforming bland statements into concrete, illustrated facts holds the attention of your audience and brings you closer to convince and convert.
8. Turn your cold hard statistics into warm fuzzy figures
Remember the old Whiskas ad ‘8 out of 10 cats prefer it’?
Now, they could have said 80% of cats prefer it, but that just wouldn’t have cut the mustard. Cold hard facts presented in percentages go down like a lead balloon, while people (or in this case animal) numbers are far more convincing.
9. Tackle your weak points head on
Rather than leaving your audience to find the holes in your product or service in relation to competitors, tackle any weak points head on. This gives you the opportunity to present them in a positive light.
We may not have as large an infrastructure as xx (competitors), but that’s what makes ours a more personal service.
10. Use all the tools you can muster
Finally, do it the easy way. Tools like Grammarly allow you to quickly check your grammar and spelling are up to scratch, with features that go beyond what the inbuilt Word or Page checkers give you. Lesser known tools like Rhymezone offer lots of quirky options in addition to turning out words that rhyme, and remember the power of the plain old Thesaurus when you just can’t think of that alternative word you’re looking for.