9 Tips for Better Copywriting
We all learned how to write in school, but in advertising, there are some simple techniques that experienced writers use to convey messages with greater impact and brevity.
Without being too tutorial, you’ll find these 9 tips quite handy when writing your next sales letter, brochure or web page.
Avoid the wimpy verbs–is and be.
These “do-little” verbs only occupy space and state that something exists. So don’t write “There is one simple omission that can transform a sentence from boring to brilliant.”
Do write “One simple omission can transform a sentence from boring to brilliant.” Similarly, avoid “We will be running the new program from our Dallas office.” Instead, opt for “We will run the new program from our Dallas office.”
Place the longest item at the end of a series.
Start with the simple and work toward the complex. It’s less confusing and makes a more memorable ending to the sentence. If you have a series like “He was always later that Joan, loud and boring.” Opt for “He was loud, boring and always later that Joan.”
Specifics are more convincing.
Unless you must for legal reasons, don’t use words like many, several, approximately, nearly and other such mushy weasel modifiers. Specifics tell your audience that you know what your product can do based on tests, research, results, etc.
Modify thy neighbor.
Neighboring clause, that is. Make sure your modifiers apply directly to the pertinent clause in question. Do this and you’ll avoid such gaffes as “I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way. (The truck wasn’t coming the other way, it was stationary.)
Better to tell the judge “I was coming the other way and collided with a stationary truck.” (You’ll still pay the penalty for running into a truck, but at least you’ll come across as sober.)
Use single verbs to avoid doublespeak.
Single verbs can often do the work of two similar verbs. Instead of “The computer was operating and running smoothly,” go for “The computer was running smoothly.” Or, instead of “He was empty and ran out of gas,” go for the more direct “He ran out of gas.”
Vary sentence length.
A string of sentences all the same length can be boring. Start with a short sentence or at least a medium-length one, then go long, short, medium or any combination thereof. Imagine a person talking in sentences that are all the same length. Robotic.
Are your sentences like the Energizer Bunny?
They go on and on. Just because you’re conveying legal or complex technical information, doesn’t mean you have to use serpentine sentences that never seem to end.
Instead of saying “Laser beams, which have many properties that distinguish them from ordinary light, result from the emission of energy from atoms in the form of electromagnetic waves.”
Break up and re-phrase to “Laser beams have many properties that distinguish them from ordinary light. They are produced when atoms emit energy in the form of electromagnetic waves.”
Go short and sweet.
Why use a 4- to 5-word phrase when a 1- to 2-word version will do nicely–with no loss in meaning? Statements like “in view of the fact that” can be easily reduced to “since” or “because.” Word economy is particularly important, especially when you’re paying for premium ad space in a major publication.
Don’t overstate the obvious.
Redundancy is good for space travel, but not for clear writing. Phrases like “anticipate in advance,” “totally finished,” or “vital essentials” will drive your readers crazy and communicate very little.
The same goes for stringing two or more synonyms together like “thoughts and ideas” or “actions and behavior.” It makes readers wonder if you really meant to say two different things or just wanted to reinforce one word with a needless synonym.
So the next time you’re struggling with that sales letter, mailer or web page, follow these simple rules.
They’ll help you communicate your message more clearly and with greater selling power.
Remember, there are 26 letters in the English alphabet. Use them wisely.
Copywriting Makeover: Subtle Changes Make A Noticeable Difference Part 1 of 2
Changing a few words in your copy can lead to double-digit increases in conversions. If that sounds like a bunch of hype from an online infomercial, stick around and I’ll show you how it’s done.
That’s really all that happened with Kneelsit.com, an Australian ergonomic computer chair manufacturer.
They had what would be considered a successful site with a continual stream of orders.
All the basic information was already included on the home page, but the owner felt as though something was not quite “there” yet.
He wanted a fresh approach to the site’s copy, so that’s what he received. And the results were simply amazing.
While Kneelsit had great rankings for their key terms (normally #1 to #4 in popular search engines) keeping those rankings high required some attention to the SEO piece of the puzzle.
Conversions, however, were not at their maximum. The business was not suffering, but it did have room for improvement. So, after receiving a sample chair to use during the process, I set (or should I say “sat”) out to work.
Once I assembled the chair and rolled it up to my desk, I kept a notepad nearby so I could jot down benefits as I noticed them.
In just a few days’ time, I had a long list of features and benefits to refer to.
As I read over the original home page copy (which can be seen here: http://www.copywritingcourse.com/kneelsit-home-original.html), I noticed something else.
Many of the benefits I had on my paper were referenced (at least briefly) in the original copy. Some were phrased differently than I would later phrase them, but most were there.
However, in this highly competitive industry, I wanted to be sure to keep the uniqueness of the chair on the forefront. Visitors needed to quickly see that the Kneelsit was superior to other computer chairs available.
The changing of some verbiage and providing more details in some areas would help keep visitors reading and help them easily distinguish this chair from others on their comparison list.
Once my list of benefits was completed, I began relating these options to other kneeling chairs and to users of ergonomic computer chairs.
I wanted to see which benefits on my list were unique in the marketplace. I also wanted to know about the users of these chairs.
After all, the buyer is the center of the process and should also be the focus of the copy.
My research revealed some of the reasons users would need an ergonomic chair and also the biggest complaints about some of the current ergonomic designs.
In addition, I discovered which benefits were common to other ergonomic chairs and which were distinctive.
Armed with the research results, I started crafting the copy to speak to that one person who was forced to sit at a computer all day, in pain, and who desperately needed help.
This person had tried several other computer chairs before with little to no results and was getting skeptical about finding a solution.
I looked back over my list of benefits in search of the ones that would not be found in the competition’s copy.
I focused on one exclusive, patented feature (the axle design) and the fact that the chair was customizable for every body type.
I laid out a plan for the new copy including keyword selection, keyword placement, benefits and key points to be mentioned.
Similar in many ways to the original copy, the new version had some subtle, but powerful, changes.
The goal of the new copy was to show the true distinction of these chairs by highlighting the most impressive benefits.
I would also focus on incorporating keyphrases in headlines and sub-heads (where it made sense to do so) and throughout the copy.
I had to pay careful attention to making the copy sound natural, as I never want the SEO factors to overshadow the message of the page.
In Part 2 of this series (seen here: http://www.marketingwords.com/articles/articles_subtlechanges2.html), we’ll take a look at what went into the rewrite as well as what type of results were achieved with the new copy.
Copywriting Makeover: Subtle Changes Make A Big Difference, Part 2 of 2
In part 1 of this series (seen here: http://www.marketingwords.com/articles/articles_subtlechanges.html), we were introduced to Kneelsit.com, an Australian manufacturer of ergonomic computer chairs who was in search of a high conversion rate.
After spotting several trouble areas within Kneelsit’s original copy (viewable here: http://www.copywritingcourse.com/kneelsit-home-original.html), I set out to rewrite the home page with specific goals in mind.
I really felt for the users of these chairs. They had back problems and medical issues, trying desperately to find relief. I can only imagine how it must feel to sit in pain all day, every day.
And, after seeing so many false claims for other chairs, I could understand how they might be skeptical. So, after reading the new home page copy, I wanted the site visitors to have confidence, to see the difference in the Kneelsit chair and to understand the benefits this chair would offer.
Of course, those in chronic pain were not the only visitors to the Kneelsit site.
While they were the primary segment, the audience also consisted of those with mild back pain, those with inconsistent problems or simple fatigue, and those who simply wanted a comfortable chair that wouldn’t contribute to any future back problems.
The copy also needed to meet their needs and provide the information they were seeking.
You can see the revised copy here: http://www.copywritingcourse.com/kneelsit-home-new.pdf.
The original headline did, in fact, list benefits. It stated:
Superb Comfort, Perfect Posture, Gentle Movement, Natural Balance
However, only one of those benefits spoke to audience members… Superb Comfort. While posture may have been a secondary thought, gentle movement and natural balance didn’t strike a chord simply because of a lack of knowledge.
As it happens, these two benefits are important, but the general population doesn’t understand what they mean.
It would require educating the site visitors about these two before they would grasp their full meaning.
That education couldn’t take place within the headline (not enough room!), so those two benefits needed to be removed.
The headline needed to evoke feelings of trust for the skeptical and a sense of stability for the hesitant.
It also needed to provide an obvious benefit – one that would catch the reader’s attention.
Also, because it made sense to do so, I included one keyphrase in the headline. The new headline read:
“Ergonomic Chair Design Based On Years Of Research Lets You Sit For Hours With No Back Pain”
The Opening Paragraph
The original copy started out just fine by naming some important benefits, but it didn’t back them up. After pointing out the relief of stress and pain, it went directly into an explanation about the chair’s patent.
The new copy took a cleaner path. It started by pointing out that others (users and professionals) liked the chair, and then it proceeded (in the next section) to explain why.
The original copy tried to educate readers about the importance of continuous movement and natural balance. There is nothing wrong with educating your customers; however, you need to give ample space to do that.
Because the visitors had limited information about these two benefits on the home page, they may have been confused or – at the least – unpersuaded.
The new copy held firm on one feature: the swivel axel mechanism. It explained how this helped with customization of settings to fit every body type and more.
With minimal education needed, the customer was able to understand that this one, patented feature offered multiple benefits.
Rather than simply listing shipping details for the close of the copy, the new version of the home page pointed out some additional benefits pertaining to quality and stylishness.
As I wrote, I looked for places to use the keyphrases chosen for this page. This was absolutely not a numbers game. My goal was not to use the keyphrases as often as I possibly could. That approach is not SEO copywriting, in my book.
Basing your copywriting strategy simply on the sheer volume of times you can include keyphrases makes the copy sound forced and ridiculous. In fact, on this home page, the keyphrases were only used a total of four or five times.
Yet, to the amazement of some, the home page ranks in the top 10 (and often top five) for its chosen key terms.
Did it work? Did the changes bring out the results we wanted? They sure did! When asked about improved conversions, the owner of Kneelsit.com had this to say, “Our conversion rate has definitely improved since the rewrite… probably by around 35-40%!”
Sometimes, even though you may have included important information in your copy, it just doesn’t do what you hoped it would. Take the time to explore, experiment and test.
Replace a headline. Rephrase a paragraph. Subtle changes can often make noticeable improvements in conversions and other areas of business.
How To Get More People To Read Your Ad Til The End
Obviously, if you’re paying to advertise your business, you want people to read your whole ad, so they know what you’re offering and can make an informed decision about whether to do business with you, don’t you?
Here’s a few ideas you can use in your advertising to keep your reader interested:- conversational short sentences, subheadings, break up long text into short paragraphs, using bullets to speed the reader through your copy, problem-solving copy the reader identifies with, talking in “What’s in it for me?” terms, educational copy, and not revealing price til the end.
Firstly, you need to be aware of the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) concept. What that means is you need to constantly tell your customer what’s in your ad for them, because if they’re reading your ad it’s only to find out something that they want to know about.
YOUR ADS NEED TO BE THE ONES THAT REWARD THEM (while your competitors’ BORE them). This also means you should understand the difference between benefits and features.
Let’s say you sell a colour TV with a 90″ screen – that’s the feature. But the benefit of this is that the screen is so big that it makes your lounge room feel like a cinema!
That’s the benefit, ok? Let me now introduce you to two powerful words which will automatically suck out the benefit of any feature;
In the example above, in order to put it into WIIFM terms, you could put it together like this – “This sensational TV has a whopping 90″ screen, which means you can virtually turn your lounge room into a cinema!”.
Another powerful tool you can use in your copy is bullets. Why? Because you can package up your most exciting and riveting benefits into short little bursts. In fact, the effect of bullet after bullet of really amazing benefits can actually cause nervous tension in your reader.
They can get so excited that they literally can’t read any more and go straight to the ordering details. That’s how powerful they are!
Here are some examples of how intriguing bullets can be in your advertising (then you can just adapt them to your own business)
* Why the advertising you’re probably running right now is wasting you thousands of dollars, and what you need to do to turn that loss into cash
* How to get movie and TV stars to help you sell your product or service
* How to get hundreds of prospects to seek YOU out
* The one mistake 99% of businesses make which loses them tons of credibility… and thousands of dollars in sales
* The secret about human nature which expert salespeople use to make their fortune
* 11 simple ways to make your business the “king” of your industry
In fact, each bullet point you write in your advertising should be just like mini headlines that promise something of value to the reader.
You might have 25 or 50 bullet points in a long sales letter, if each of them are like a mini headline, then you may only need one to stand out to your reader and make them say “Yes, I need to know more about this!”
And this is also where educational copy comes in. You can’t assume that people know as much about your business as you do.
You work in it every day, and possibly been doing it for years, and often you can get frustrated because you don’t think your customers respect your value.
But the reality is, THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND YOUR VALUE.
So you need to educate them about the value you offer. If you tell them something about your company, then your job is to explain why that’s important for them.
Let’s say you sell an expensive mountain bike, for example. In order to get people to buy the bike you’ve got to justify why they should spend $2000 on your bike.
You’ve got to tell them the reasons why, which is what educational copy is all about.
Like that the bike has better suspension to handle rough terrain, a comfy seat that you could ride the bike for hours without getting sore, and maybe it has 50 gears for easy riding, and a GPS so you never get lost.
These are all just examples of course, but notice how it’s talking mainly in benefits to the reader, how it will help them!