22 Questions to Ask Before You Write a Single Word

Value Added Copywriting

22 Questions to Ask Before You Write a Single Word

To write successful copy, you need to know as much as you can. It goes beyond reading background materials, reviewing old marketing pieces and doing some cursory research on the Web.

You need to get inside peoples’ heads.

Start with your clients. They know their business and their customers better than you do. (If they don’t, they should. You can help them learn more.)

How? Use a marketing/creative brief to get the information you need to ace the copywriting (and marketing) assignment. (A marketing/creative brief is a tool used by ad agencies and corporate marketing and creative departments.)

Following is a marketing/creative brief adapted from one I used during my stint at a Seattle ad agency. Even though I now work solo, I still use it today.

(Begin form)

Marketing/Creative Brief

(Note: Designed for B2B; much of this brief is also applicable to B2C.)

Good input is key to a successful project, campaign, or marketing program. This marketing/creative brief is designed to elicit good input. But it takes thorough and thoughtful answers on your part. Please answer the following questions carefully.

1. What is the description of the piece(s)? (Ad, Web site, brochure, radio script, direct mail, etc.)

2. What is the marketing focus? (What products or services are we telling about?)

3. What is the communications problem that the piece(s) must solve? (Awareness, positioning or repositioning, product introduction, category introduction, etc.)

4. Who is the audience? (Demographics, title, function, responsibility, etc.)

5. What is their point of view about the product, service, category?

6. Who is the secondary audience(s), if any?

7. What business problems or issues does the product(s)/service(s) solve for the audience(s)? (Efficiency issues, profitability issues, operations issues, technology issues, etc.)

8. What effect do we want the piece(s) to have on the target audience(s)? (Purchase, phone call, visit Web site, request more information, increase their awareness, etc.)

9. What can we offer to achieve the desired response? (Demos, situation evaluation, sales collateral, personal visit, white paper, etc.)

10. What is the single essential message we must tell the target audience(s) to achieve the desired effect? (Be as concise as possible.)

11. What evidence is there to support our claims? (Features and benefits, testimonials, case studies, etc.)

12. Can anyone else make a similar promise?

13. Are there any technology issues to address? (Compatibility, operating systems, hardware requirements, etc.)

14. What specific industry issues must be addressed? (Trends, etc.)

15. Are there any industry, product or competitive issues to be avoided?

16. What tone should the piece employ? (Hardhitting/serious, educational/informative, humorous, etc.)

17. What do you like about your current piece(s)? (Look and feel, tone, messaging, functionality, etc.)

18. What don’t you like about your current piece(s)? (Look and feel, tone, messaging, functionality, etc.)

19. What overall impressions (look and feel, etc.) would you like the piece(s) to make?

20. Will this piece(s) be used with any other pieces? (proposals, collateral, letters, etc.)

21. How will the piece(s) be used (online, leave behind, trade shows, mailed, etc.) and at what point in the sales cycle?

22. Any other comments?

(End form)

Admittedly, getting clients to answer these questions isn’t always easy.

That’s why it’s best to be flexible with the use of a marketing/creative brief. You can ask the client to fill it out. You can use it to interview the client. You can fill it out yourself for the client’s review. Any sort of collaborative approach works well.

In the end, stress to your clients that if they want more clicks, more leads and more sales, they need to actively participate in the input process.

One you have all the information you need, you’re ready to write a winner.

Pharmaceutical Copywriters are just what the doctor ordered

So you are just getting out of college. You want to earn your living as a writer, and you decide on a career as an advertising copywriter. Naturally everyone wants to write the next great sneaker ad, or be the brainchild of the newest 20-year Vodka campaign, right? Not so fast. While a career in “consumer” advertising has always been the benchmark of the industry, more and more young copywriters are finding their way in the growing world of pharmaceutical advertising. So why would someone want to write about a depression drug rather than a soft drink?

Here are three major reasons for this trend:


With Job security as low as it has been since the crash of 1929, young creatives in general consumer advertising on Madison Avenue are finding themselves out of work an alarming rate. Pharmaceutical advertising is generally a bit more stable, as the market is simply smaller.


Initially, the salaries earned by consumer and healthcare copywriters is roughly about the same. That is to say, not very much. However, successful healthcare writers see larger salary increases and title promotions sooner than their consumer counterparts.

Sense of Importance:

At first glance the content, regulations and demographic would imply that pharmaceutical advertising wouldn’t allow for as much creativity as a general consumer advertising. And while your “creative box” may be a bit smaller in pharmaceutical advertising, the work does allow and lend itself to a more dramatic and strategic end result. Furthermore, many creatives in pharmaceutical advertising love the fact that the message matters, and feel that their work truly is important.

So while writing the dream sequence spot for that new video game is fun, at the end of the day you’re simply marketing a video game.

Pharmaceutical writers are asked to really devour the product; it’s chemistry and most importantly how the condition for which the pharmaceutical product is indicated affects patients. In many cases, writers are asked to interview and meet patients to talk about their condition(s). It has been debated ad nauseam if medication is truly the best therapy. And while I’m smart enough to not opine on that topic, there is no arguing that awareness and education for both patients and healthcare professionals are necessary.

In any case, we can be certain that medicine has historically done more for society than any sneaker, soft drink or video game ever has.

To learn more about a career as a pharmaceutical copywriter please feel free to email me at [email protected]

Anthony Hemsey is a Sr. Trainer/ VP Placement Specialist at Dola Group Professsional Development. Dola Group is a consulting and executive search firm dedicated soley to the medical pharmaceutical advertising and marketing arena. To learn more about Dola Group’s current program and job openings please visit dolagroup.com

To begin a dialogue with one of Dola Group’s professional consultants please send an email to [email protected]– and mention this article!

SEO Copywriting Makeover: Finding the Right Trigger

You’ve got a great product or service. Now, how do you make buyers sit up and take notice? How do you get them excited about what you’re offering? You have to pull the trigger.

There is at least one trigger for every product or service on the market today. Finding it is the hard part. Once you determine what will set your customers in motion, you’ve won half the battle. This was the case with ForecastWatch.com.

With a new site, the owner of ForecastWatch.com (Jeff) was unsure of what to do with the copy in order to connect with his site visitors and cause them to take the action he wanted them to take. Not to mention, Jeff wanted to rank highly with the engines as well, so search engine optimization (SEO) had to be taken into consideration, along with the selling aspects of the copy.

The Problem

The only real problem was finding the right trigger. The original site had little to no usable copy. That’s not an insult; it’s the truth. You can see the original home page here: http://www.copywritingcourse.com/forecastwatch-original.pdf. Jeff knew he needed help from a professional copywriter, so he spent little time on the site content.

The Solution

To determine the most powerful trigger, I took a look at all the segments of ForecastWatch.com’s audience. It was broken down into three distinct types of customers. They were all interested in the most reliable weather forecasts possible, but for three very different reasons.

One group was made up of meteorologists. Their obvious interest was in being able to provide the most accurate forecasts to their viewers and listeners. A second group was compiled of weather risk managers. It is the job of these professionals to accurately assess weather for industries such as the stock exchange, construction, transportation, national defense and more. The last group needed weather forecast accuracy for personal reasons, usually as a hobby or for sports reasons (coaches, etc.).

While the last group was primarily interested in the weather as amateurs, the first two segments (meteorologists and weather-risk managers) have a lot on the line when it comes to weather forecast accuracy. Their reputations and their jobs are on the line.

And that’s the trigger! I put it right up front in the headline, which read:

Because Your Reputation Depends on
Being Right About the Weather

The headline hit the nail on the head. It got the attention of weather professionals, was of great interest to hobbyists and included part of one of Jeff’s keyphrases. The last word in the headline (weather) tied into the first sentence of the copy and, thus, created a keyphrase.

Keep in mind that engines don’t read spaces or line breaks or punctuation within the copy, so having one word of a keyphrase in the headline and the remainder of the keyphrase in the first sentence of the copy is an excellent way to make the copy flow and keep in line with SEO protocol.

Now, the task would be to keep that same emotional twist and energy throughout the copy. With the old copy, Jeff had no rankings with the engines for his chosen keyphrases, so the optimization of the copy needed to give him a presence.

The Rewrite

In the opening paragraph, I touted the praises of weather professionals, letting them know their expertise was recognized and appreciated. I also used one keyphrase twice and the second keyphrase once. In addition, I used the individual word “weather” and substituted “specialist” for “risk manager” in some instances to add to the flow and give a well-rounded environment for the spiders and bots.

Next, I provided a good overview of what ForecastWatch.com offered. Again, a keyphrase was used in the headline (because it worked for both the visitors and the engines, not strictly for SEO purposes), and a keyphrase was used in the paragraph.

Finally, the copy was broken out into segments that targeted specific individuals. This gave them precise information on what benefits ForecastWatch.com offered them. Boxes for meteorologists, weather risk managers and weather enthusiasts were created. Within the copy for each block and again in the anchor text for links to internal pages, keyphrases were used where appropriate. These boxes lead each visitor to information that was most relevant to him/her.

You can see the new copy here: http://www.copywritingcourse.com/forecastwatch-rewrite.pdf.

The Results

I always like to let the customer take over in this section. Here’s what Jeff had to say about the rewrite of his home-page copy.

“Traffic has steadily increased, and I’ve gotten a lot of leads and my largest non-weather-company business customer from Internet search. The rewrite helped me with more than just the website. It helped me to define my business goals and to articulate them in other marketing materials as well.” In addition, rankings continue to rise with current positioning in the top five for one of his keyphrases.

Take the time to do a little research. Put yourself in your customers’ place. Uncover what’s most important to them, and you’ll be rewarded with greater conversions in the long run.

The 2 Most Common Mistakes When Writing With Keywords

It really gets my blood pressure up. SEO copywriting has begun to get a poor reputation all due to carelessness. How so? Because too many people claim to know what they are doing. In reality, they simply shove keywords into copy without any concern for how the copy flows. Copy that sounds mechanical or stiff is a sure sign that an amateur writer has had his/her hands in things.

When you write SEO copy, you should take the time to find out what works and what doesn’t. There are two mistakes almost every amateur search engine copywriter makes. Let’s take a look at each one.

<B>#1 – The List</B>

Let’s say you visit the home page of a website that sells beauty supplies. As you read the copy, you keep coming across a string of items: hair salon supplies, hair salon equipment and professional manicure tables. The copy reads something like this:


<B>The Best Selection of Hair Salon Supplies, Hair Salon Equipment and
Professional Manicure Tables On the Internet</B>

When you’re shopping for hair salon supplies, hair salon equipment and professional manicure tables, you need a vendor who offers great selection as well as great service. Because buying hair salon supplies, hair salon equipment and professional manicure tables can be an expensive venture, you also want a company that delivers the lowest price.

Trust ABC Beauty Supply to bring you the widest selection of hair salon supplies, hair salon equipment and professional manicure tables in stock every day. Orders are shipped within 24 hours and – for all hair salon supplies, hair salon equipment and professional manicure tables orders over $100 – shipping is absolutely free!


Do you see how that flows (or doesn’t flow) when you use all your keyphrases in a row every single time? One time, sure. That’s fine. Even twice, depending on the length of your copy. But to put all your keyphrases in a list and use them every time you have the smallest opportunity is just far too repetitive. What do you do instead?

Discuss each one in its own section. Talk about the various types of hair salon supplies. Review the reasons your hair salon equipment is better than that sold by others. Or even list the features and benefits of the line of manicure tables you offer.

<B>#2 – Substituting Keywords for Generic Terms</B>

This technique (just like the one above) is perfectly fine IF you use it in moderation. However, to replace every instance of a generic term with a keyphrase will cause your copy to sound downright silly. Let’s have a look at an example from a Web design site.


<B>New Orleans Web Design</B>

Our New Orleans Web design firm offers a high level of creativity to businesses located in the general area. Our New Orleans Web design styles are never made from templates. Each New Orleans Web design is a custom creation just for your site.


If you walked into a Web design company’s office and the employees began to talk like that copy is written, you’d most likely think they were on drugs! So why in the world would you write your site copy that way? The reason is because most amateurs mistakenly think they can’t write for both the search engines and the site visitors. I’m delighted to say they are wrong! You can most certainly write for both with great success.

Try this:


Progressive, creative, upbeat. Those are phrases that best describe many online businesses based in New Orleans. Web design for your organization should match your style. Never created from templates, the site designs you’ll receive will be truly reflective of your corporate personality. Because we work exclusively with companies located in or near New Orleans, Web designs retain that Big Easy feel.


Did you see it? The phrase was broken up using punctuation. That won’t hurt your rankings one bit, but it will make your copy sound a LOT better.

These are not all the mistakes. I wish they were! But most of the mistakes made by amateur writers can be fixed using one simple test. Read it out loud. If the copy sounds ridiculous to you when you read it out loud, it is going to sound equally ridiculous to a site visitor.

Take your time. Learn the ins and outs of SEO copywriting before you begin to create the text for your (or your clients’) pages. Then you can rest assured that your copy will convert better while it contributes to your high rankings.

Unimaginable power of the content- most sacred secretes of effective copywriting revealed

Few of the web site owners do not understand the importance of well-written and well-optimized content. The demand on experienced and skilled copywriter, whether he specializes in the web site copywriting, offline or internet copywriting, is constantly rising. However, how could one define experienced and highly- skilled copywriter? What skills and experience should he possess to design and compose effective copywriting content?!

Undoubtedly he should know SEO copywriting process, none of the web site content can not be written without it. Copywriter should understand how to get high rankings on your web site, how to perform keywords search process and organize and optimize your web site. Certainly it might be advisable to see some of the web sites designed by your potential copywriter. One should evaluate them thoroughly in order to understand the ability and aptitude of your copywriter. These are just of the few requirements that should be met by experienced and highly-skilled copywriter. Certainly, the format of this article does not allow enlisting all of them. Each company that hires copywriters sets special standards and requirements for its individual copywriting process.

Experienced and highly-skilled copywriter is an essential specialist in your advertising copywriting process. Upon his skills, aptitude, creativity and originality depends the efficiency of your advertising campaign. Apart from pure technical knowledge, your web site copywriter should possess several other skills which are necessary for the writing and composing of appealing and attracting content. The advertising copywriting should meet several important criteria, such as the ability to write in clear and easy-to-read style; moreover the text of your content should induce your visitor to make some actions. Effective advertising copywriting should communicate with your customers, should produce trust and induce them to purchase the products and services at your company. That means that your text must emphasize the advantages and uniqueness of your products and services, and you company in general. In order to achieve these results one should emphasize on the training and the improvement of composition and writing skills.