No matter what it has to offer, every business ultimately relies on words to convince, convert and generate sales.
Many people think they can write, but the reality is that persuading a complete stranger to do something using words alone is really hard.
It takes years to understand human psychology and perfect your copywriting skills. Chances are, if you're a business owner or a marketer in charge of content, you've simply not got the time.
So, what can you do?
Well, if you'd like to fast-track everything and start transforming your business today, I've got 42 advanced copywriting tips for you. That can be applied to a variety of commercial situations, but they're all really easy to implement.
Make no mistake. This article basically condenses 20+ years of copywriting experience into an actionable list of the best strategies.
Let's do this.
Set yourself a word count to stay laser-focused
Whatever you're writing and wherever your copy is going, be ruthless with your words - consumers don’t have time for waffle. Research shows that we've only got 7 seconds to make a good impression online, so we must show value fast.
You need clean thinking and simple language to create copy that quickly resonates with a target audience and moves them to take action. If you're serious about doing this right, follow these steps to make sure your copy works:
1. Go to the website of a brand that you admire.
2. Browse all their different pages [such as 'About' pages, product descriptions, service information etc].
3. Copy and paste the different pieces of copy into Word documents.
4. Make a note of all the word counts and how they differ.
5. Think about why the word counts vary. What does each type of web page have to accomplish?
6. Check the word counts on your web pages and edit accordingly.
Forget everything you've learned at school
Let's get one thing straight: school doesn’t prepare us for business. Certainly not as far as copywriting is concerned, anyway.
Grammar and spelling are obviously important, but academic writing is all about elaborate vocabulary and structural conformity. A brand can't communicate effectively and create individuality in that kind of environment.
Great copywriting isn’t about following rules; it’s about knowing when to break them. Here’s how to do that:
1. Make a list of all the writing guidelines you remember being told at school. If you get stuck, go online and search for terms like ‘school essay writing tips’.
2. Highlight the ones that you think would inhibit the creation of good business copy for the digital arena. Need an example? Teachers always tell kids never start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’. Roald Dahl didn't care about doing that, Apple doesn't and nor should you.
3. Print the list out - now you've got your own checklist to keep.
4. Use the list like a set of brand guidelines and compare everything against your copy.
Use plenty of paragraph breaks
This is especially important for digital content. Just like when you flick through a book in a library, you can sense whether website copy is going to be a hard read without absorbing a single word.
Less is more and no one wants to sift through large blocks of text, so embrace white space.
Having short, sharp sentences [and larger fonts] make for a much more pleasurable reading experience. Fortunately, a stylish and effective web page is easy to achieve:
1. Take one of your web pages, print out the copy and grab a red pen.
2. Insert a line after every unique point or statement that you make.
3. Separate each point so that they all sit on their own. It doesn’t matter if some points only take up one line – often that's preferable.
Put your customers first
When it comes to copy, businesses tend to focus too much on the wrong things. They've often keen to talk about how long they've been trading or how qualified the CEO is rather than how they can solve their customers' problems.
What you’ve got to say about your business isn’t important; actually, what your audience needs to hear is.
In a commercial environment, readers will always be thinking 'what's in it for me'. As such, business copy needs to be extremely benefit-driven. Even if you sometimes have to be subtle, always bring things round to how you can help.
Here's how to do it:
1. Check your copy for any jargon. Be careful not to casually reference terms that might not be widely understood.
2. Ensure that your copy has a logical flow to it – avoid any unnecessary barriers.
3. Write down the goal of each piece of copy you write. Always measure your words against this aim.
4. Find the balance between patronising your audience and assuming that they know everything.
Use emotion to instigate action
Big brands use emotion in their copy all the time.
Because emotion sells.
No matter what the product is, it's usually bought because of how the customer feels about the item, what it will do for them and how it will make them feel.
Customers then try to justify the purchase with logic. So, since emotions instigate sales, copy has to evoke emotions.
If a customer has a problem that needs solving or a desire for a particular item, they're going to feel a wide range emotions before, during and after a sale. I sounds crass, but business copy needs to leverage these emotions.
In addition, customers always remember the way a company makes them feel and emotion makes advertising campaigns more memorable. That increases brand awareness and loyalty.
Just think of the John Lewis ads at Christmas time which have become an event in itself.
Take a look at the steps below to start using emotion in your communications:
1. Write down all the problems your product solves or the desires that it satisfies.
2. Attach a descriptive emotion to each problem.
3. Structure your copy so that you show empathy to your audience.
4. Talk about the benefits of your product or service and how it will make your customers feel.
Choose your fonts carefully
Fonts are basically clothes for our words, yet they're often completely overlooked. It makes no sense.
Just like meeting people in real life, your copy doesn't really get a second chance to make a first impression. Looks matter - the right font is the difference between communicating something effectively and coming across as spammy, sloppy or trashy.
Don’t butcher the effect of your messages before anyone’s even read them. Follow these steps to get the most out of your copy by taking these actions:
1. Fire up 6 websites of quality brands that you respect and admire.
2. Copy and paste their website copy into a Word document and see which font they’re using.
3. Note the differences between all the fonts, colours and sizes you’ve seen. Pick out the one you like the best.
Use everyday language to avoid confusion
Writing business copy is about making money, not winning literacy awards. Don’t try to be too clever or you risk your message not getting across or not being understood.
Everyday language is nicer. Massive brands like Innocent Drinks and Starbucks have enjoyed huge success with a simple, down-to-Earth style. Here's how to nail your tone of voice:
1. Find some brands that you admire and take a look at how they speak. What style do they use?
2. Incorporate new, innovative things into your copy. Then print out some of your work and read it out loud. Change anything that doesn't sound right.
3. Read your copy out to someone else. What's their feedback?
Tell a story to become memorable
As humans, we’re hard-wired to love stories. From fairytales as a kid through to movies and books in our adult lives, stories play a huge part in our lives. We're attracted to them
Corporate storytelling increases conversion rates, establishes memorable brands and turns customers into loyal, repeat clients.
Here are a couple of killer tips for finding your story that sells:
1. Identify a hero and a villain within your subject matter. They don’t have to be actual characters. If you’re selling surface cleaner for instance, then grime is the enemy.
2. Move the reader along a journey. Create the sense that you’ll help the, overcome a challenge and discover something new and valuable.
Master punctuation to become more impactful
Good copy has rhythm. But there’s more to creating copy that flows nicely than you might think. Clever use of punctuation plays a huge role in effective writing.
Punctuation was first used hundreds of years ago by speechwriters in ancient Greece. They used various notes and marks to help famous orators to deliver the speeches properly.
In other words, punctuation was created so that meaning wasn’t lost.
Now, the good news is that most punctuation is fairly obvious. Apostrophes, speech marks, semi-colons and the like all have a role to play - if you're not sure about any of them, fire up Google.
Actually, masters punctuation in the sense of controlling readers can be achieved with just a few ground rules:
1. Make sure you don’t overuse the comma. It’s easy to tell when to put a comma into your copy. Read what you’ve written out loud and insert a comma when you breathe.
2. Don't use exclamation marks.
3. Ensure both your sentences and paragraphs aren't too long.
4. Try to stick to making one point per paragraph.
Use sub-headings to make key points stand out
It's important to understand how people read digital copy. Research shows that 79% of people scan web pages before they do anything. They’re subconsciously looking for words, phrases or images that interest them or catch their eye.
Also, even in the best circumstances, only 16% of people read every word on a web page so follow these steps to give your words some much-needed TLC.
1. Break long pieces of copy up into manageable chunks.
2. Insert a sub-heading to introduce each section. They need to be very benefit-driven. Don’t talk conceptually – be blunt and include the appropriate keywords.
3. Make sure the sub-heading is in bold.
4. For SEO reasons, assign an h2 or h3 tag to it.
Weed out all spelling errors
Do you proofread your work?
You should do, because perception is reality and there's nothing worse than sloppy copy. Customers now have all the power and with plenty of competitors just a quick click away, that’s bad news if you're spelling isn't up to scratch.
And don't offer up any excuses. Disney replace all the flowers in each of their parks every single month. Why? Because details matter and if that attention to detail is good enough for them then it should be good enough for you, too.
Business is all about trust and credibility. A single error can wreak havoc on sales, so be vigilant and hunt out any mistakes. Here’s how to improve your attention to detail and enhance your reputation:
1. Never rely on a spell-checker. Use one but don't leave things there.
2. Don’t just proof your work on a screen. Print it off and review a hard copy of what you've created.
3. Proof your copy in different rooms and at different times – our brains can become complacent and used to routine.
4. Read your work from the bottom up to keep your mind fresh.
Think about the hierarchy of your messaging
Non-copywriters have a nasty habit of burying the most important thing they’ve got to say. It's a really common mistake that
happens for two reasons.
Firstly, the writer hasn’t done any preparation, so the copy has just been blurted out.
Secondly, the business owner isn’t aware that long, labored introductions just aren’t going to cut it. To make your messages stick, check this strategy out:
1. Take a web page on your website.
2. Have a brainstorm and list out everything that you want to say (each point should just be a quick note).
3. Juggle the order of the list until you’re happy with the hierarchy.
4. Move your paragraphs around until they tie in with your list.
Be authentic, honest and trustworthy
It's really easy to knock up a website and start selling stuff, but it's surprisingly difficult to get someone to pull out their credit card and make a transaction.
As business owners, there are a number of hurdles that we need to overcome. We need to use words to convince potential customers that we can be trusted. Here are 4 stellar tips:
1. Make the most of your ‘about’ page. It’s your main chance to expose the people and ethics behind your brand.
2. Never copy from a competitor.
3. Be true to yourself. If you have an opinion about an aspect of your industry, take a stance and stick to it.
4. Blog regularly and solve painful problems that are relevant to your audience. Be their saviour.
5. Ditch the sleazy marketing spiel and superlatives; it sounds desperate. Remember that people aren't stupid.
It's often not what you're selling...
... it's the way you're going about it.
Be under no illusions: if your copy is good enough, you really can sell ice to Eskimos. What’s more, sometimes the quality of your product won’t even come into the equation.
The trick is to be interesting, relevant and engaging.
Do market research and define your audience
All the copywriting tips in the world won’t matter if you don’t know who you’re selling to.
A lot of business copy is doomed to fail from the get-go because it isn’t geared towards the right audience. That means, even if a piece of content is popular, it lacks strategy and might not achieve the intended goal.
Website traffic isn’t an exercise in vanity.
Don’t aim to attract the most visitors; instead, follow these 4 steps to focus on getting the right visitors:
1. Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
2. Think about the characteristics of your most valuable customer. Are they male or female? Young or old? The more detail the better.
3. Give that person a name, job and location. Visualise them.
4. Work out what sort of content they like and how they prefer to consume it.
Write with design in mind
Sometimes life isn’t fair. You spend ages creating the perfect copy, but it just doesn’t work with the look and functionality of your website, poster, banner or suchlike.
Avoid a design malfunction by noting these 3 tips:
1. Pay attention to how copy wraps around any images you may have on a web page. It’s really common for an image to completely dissect a sentence. It looks horrible and amateurish.
2. Look out for any hanging words (where your sentence reaches a certain length and then sends a solitary word to the next line). Not only does this look poor, but it also severely disrupts reading momentum for your user.
3. Make sure your buttons and links are framed by a consistent amount of white space.
Create a style guide for consistency
Savvy business-leaders shape the culture of their company to drive innovation and earn revenue.
They know that it’s the culture of a company – the values, morals and subtle behaviors of all employees - that often limits performance.
A style guide officially documents these ideas and demonstrates that some thought has gone into how a firm wants to be portrayed.
Apple, Google and Amazon are terrific examples of businesses that have thought carefully about their image. Feeling ready to create your style guide but don’t know where to start?
1. Come up with 3 values that represent what you stand for.
2. Create a mission statement that would give a complete stranger a good idea of what you’re trying to achieve.
3. Incorporate a detailed house style into your guidelines. This should include the font you want to use, any banned clichés and pieces of industry jargon, plus your copy rules on how to communicate numbers, dates and the like.
Understand what makes humans tick
Successful brands use a variety of scientifically-backed copywriting tricks to influence us andget us to part with our hard-earned cash.
It’s called subconscious framing and you should definitely try to use it in your business strategy too. The trick is to understand the way we all think and operate.
Here are 16 things about consumers that all copywriters, marketing managers and business owners need to know:
1. Consumers have more trust in companies who display some sort of social responsibility.
2. In the context of looking to the future, people are more responsive to optimistic copy.
3. We part with more cash when we’re not physically parting with any money (i.e. paying by card or via an online account).
4. If the end result is worth it, we don’t mind going down the hard route to get it.
5. Thinking about failed strategies in the past makes us want to pay more now.
6. Words that are simpler to follow are more trustworthy.
7. We place more emphasis on what we read first.
8. We’re more reluctant to stop doing something if we’ve already put a lot of time, money and effort into it.
9. If we find it difficult to make a decision, we tend to copy what other people think, say and do.
10. Faced with a selection of items, people usually choose something in the centre.
11. The price of a product or service greatly affects how we perceive its value.
12. Perceived ownership of a product or service is very powerful.
13. We place a lot of emphasis on products or services that we can use to help ourselves.
14. Offering a variety of choices can often lead to indecision and lower sales. People prefer smaller lists of items.
15. Round numbers are seen as being more trustworthy.
16. Products that stand out as being unique for the right reasons are held in high esteem.
Use plenty of images for digital copy
Although words are important, images are too [particularly online]. They can contextualise messaging and make copy more powerful. And speaking more generally, they're eye-catching which helps with maintain interest.
Images also carry SEO value too. There are only 4 things to worry about with images:
1. Make sure the quality of your image is good. While a great image is a classy touch, a badly cropped or low-res picture can obviously ruin even the best copy.
2. Your image needs to be relevant. If you can only bring boring stock images to the table, don't bother doing anything.
3. Add alt text and alt tags to images in your website’s CMS.
4. Ensure you don't break any copyright laws. If you need to, you can read more on that here.
To be creative, allow yourself to fail
Fact is, fear is at the heart of most bad writing.
From an early age, creativity is actively discouraged. Yet in business, it’s exactly what's required. That’s why many famous business leaders like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates all underachieved at school. Many dropped out, in fact.
Instead, successful entrepreneurs rely on their instincts. And to become a master copywriter, you’ll need to as well. Here are 2 things to bear in mind:
1. Show your copy to a friend or family member. Take their feedback on board, but always carefully assess any negative comments before making any knee-jerk reactions.
2. In terms of online marketing, real creativity is much more about solving problems than it is about self-expression.
Prepare to edit your content multiple times
This is in relation to technical flow rather than accuracy.
The thing about good copy is that you just don’t notice it. However, getting your copy into that state takes a lot of effort.
Note that refining copy is usually about subtracting words, not adding them. Super-charge your copy with these 3 tips:
1. Don’t just edit your copy on-screen. Print it out on a piece of paper, grab a red pen and make notes.
2. Get someone else to proofread your copy too. Sometimes we can almost train our brains to overlook errors if the page is too familiar.
3. Take a break and come back to your work with fresh eyes ahead of the final edit.
Credibility adds power to your words
All things being equal, clinching the sale is the hardest thing to do in business. Think about it: getting someone to take out their credit card is a big thing.
Consumers are naturally sceptical, but some well-placed testimonials can add real credibility to any marketing message. With testimonials, there are just 3 things to remember:
- Never make them up.
- Don't over do them.
- Ensure they're worded realistically.
Be current and topical
One for the bloggers out there.
Content marketing is huge, but don't just pump out any old garbage. When you're deciding what to write about, why not see which issues are affecting your target audience today?
Create content that's relevant. Keep an eye on industry news, popular forums, Amazon book lists, Quora questions, Reddit threads, big-name blogs and such like.
Inspiration is everywhere.
Specificity means curiosity
Magazines all have similar kinds of headlines on their covers.
And these mags need to sell, so head to your nearest shop to study some of them.
When Men's Health magazine reference a 19-day plan for getting bigger arm muscles, they do so for a reason. They don't talk about getting results in 10 days. Or 20. It's 19.
The number is so specific that it jumps out. And it also implies that this is a plan that really works. People hate vagueness, which probably explains our opinions about politicians [and, in particular, their election manifestos].
Be strong and forceful in your sales copy
Whilst you should definitely avoid being sleazy, there's no harm in being laser-focused.
Don't forget that the human brain is fairly predictable and there's little doubt that people like to be led. This is a question of logic.
People need solutions to problems. They crave certain products or services. And if you can help them, they why skirt around the issue? Sell them what they want.
Preparation is everything
Creativity is vital when it comes to copywriting, but creativity only comes when you're fully prepared for the job in hand. And that means doing some detective work and knowing everything about:
- Your product or service.
- Your target audience.
- Your market.
- Your competition.
- Your public perception.
Talk about benefits, not features
Focusing on features is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you're selling something technical.
Suppose that you want to buy a new TV. You step into a store and find something you like. Immediately, a sales advisor jumps on you and reveals that it's a 120Hz HDTV.
You might understand this kind of jargon, but what if you don't?
If you're not much of a techie, this is just a meaningless piece of information. There's no value being communicated.
What you really need to hear is that, because it's a 120Hz HDTV, it has pixels that refresh themselves 60 times every second. As a result, you get a clearer picture, even if you're watching a programme that's fast-moving [like a football match, for instance].
Features matter, but benefits resonate more with consumers.
Reframe your copy by using opposites
Because there's so much content out there, it's become harder to retain people's attention.
Basically, there's too much noise.
One copywriting technique that you can apply to your business copy is to use opposites to jolt people out of their comfort zone and grab them by the short and curls [metaphorically speaking, of course].
Take dieting as an example. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that the best way to lose weight is to eat more vegetables and exercise more. But this is obvious so really, everyone's saying the same thing in slightly different ways.
However, you could reframe this information.
The main problem with eating more healthily is that people can only hold out for so long. In other words, at the start of any diet, we're usually quite enthusiastic. We cut out all their sugary foods, but this lifestyle change only lasts a week or a month.
Perhaps we'd be better advised if we were allowed a sweet treat every other day?
And if that was true, you could reframe a diet and speak about it in a different way by using the power of opposites. Imagine if you saw an advert for a diet plan that had the tagline:
Want to lose weight by eating chocolate?
By combining the topic of dieting with something fairly unrelated [chocolate], you can capture attention quickly. Once you've done that, you can talk about how humans will be more likely to stick to a diet if they're allowed some days off.
Use open loops to maintain interest
Open loops keep people engaged with your content. If you've ever seen the TV show Lost, you'll know all about open loops.
Every episode of Lost would end with a situation that would leave viewers on the edge of their seats. They'd be desperate to tune in the next week and see how story would be resolved.
When the next show came around, it would answer the question and throw up another tantalising scenario. This is a great tactic to use when you're communicating with people regularly, perhaps via email marketing.
Always use an active voice
Take a look at the 2 sentences below and think about which one sounds the best.
The exam was passed by Graham.
Graham passed the exam.
The second sentence is the optimal one, since it uses an active voice. An active voice should be used in all forms of writing, but it's particularly important for business copy because it:
- Makes copy smoother and faster to read.
- Gets to the point quicker.
- Is more impactful.
- Is more natural [we usually speak in an active voice].
Don't give readers a reason to object
Many people like to ask questions in their copy, but try to avoid asking a question that might yield an unwanted answer. One of the most common questions that businesses can typically ask is:
Why not give us a call today?
There are many reasons why. Time, money, effort, trust...
Instead, be more decisive:
Give us a call today.
Get a free quote today.
Make a change today.
And if you're going to ask a question, it's best to ask one that people will always respond to with a 'yes':
Do you need more customers?
Would you like guaranteed business growth?
Are you after copywriting tips that work?
Use the PAR formula
If you're suffering from writer's block, why not use a tried and tested copywriting formula? It's pretty simple and works for most forms of business copy.
PAR stands for:
So, start off by talking about your audience's main problem.
For example, suppose you had a company that sold running shoes. The problem might be how to run a marathon race without getting sore feet.
Your next job is to agitate the problem. Here, make the problem as big and as real as possible. Continuing with the example, I agitate the problem by talking about how you're going to put a lot of effort into your marathon.
A marathon runner will be training for 4 months and finish with the race itself, so that's a lot of time out on the road and plenty of wear and tear on the feet.
If someone is committing to completing a feat like this, they need to be as comfortable as possible. They certainly don't want to be in any unnecessary pain.
Finish with how you can help. Perhaps you sell a new type of running shoe that's specifically for long distance runners. Or maybe you offer a free service where you analyse someone's gait and suggest the best shoe for their particular style.
Don't allow yourself to be distracted
Creating effective copy is tough.
When it comes to sitting down and actually writing the words, it's really easy to get distracted. If that sounds familiar, take some advice from legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz.
He recommended setting a timer for 33 minutes. During those 33 minutes, you're only allowed to work on your project. Shut down any internet browsers and turn off your phone.
When the alarm goes off, take a 10-minute break and go again.
Commit to this routine for a few days until the job is completed. And if that still doesn't work, maybe it's not as big a priority as you thought. Maybe distance yourself from the project for a day or two and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Use clear CTAs
If you've created some amazing digital copy, but you're not given your audience clear action to take at the end, then you're wasting an opportunity and potentially leaving money on the table.
Having an persuasive and relevant call-to-action [CTA] is one of the most important aspects of web copywriting.
If your CTA is in the form of a button, then be sure to test different words, colours and shapes. Depending on the market and the audience, you'll usually find that there's always a clear winner.
Stay away from swipe files
We've all seen the Facebook ads that give away "the EXACT subject lines used in a $10billion product launch". Unfortunately, using any kind of swipe file is almost always a bad idea.
Whether we're talking about email marketing or anything else, you can't just apply templates from one industry to another. And even if you could, multiple businesses would do it and consumers would get eventually get desensitised to the words.
Always be wary of taking the short cut. Business isn't that easy and you're going to be far better off creating your own copy. Test different styles by all means. And definitely take inspiration. But never, ever mimic.
Use power words where appropriate
Clearly, if you can make your copy more impactful, then do so. Why choose a dull word when a vibrant one can be used instead? Power words can be insanely effective in business copy, but the only danger is not to overdo it.
Use too many of them and it'll sound forced. Like the saying goes, the more we say, the less they'll hear.
Appeal to your audience's sense of entitlement
We all think the world owes us a favour from time to time. Whether we're looking for a new sofa or an electrician, we tend to feel shades of the following:
Play on these emotions and it'll trigger reactions.
Be aware of search engines
What's the point of penning amazing copy if no one ever reads it?
The stats tell us that 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine. Google alone handles 5.6 billion searches every day. In other words, people are searching for information all the time.
You should always write for humans, not a machine [not least because it's not 2005 anymore and actually, that's what Google wants you to do]. However, it's vital to be aware of SEO.
Do the basics. Do some keyword research, make sure your site is mobile-friendly and have logical website architecture.
Answer your customers' objections in advance
No product is perfect. Even Apple have to cope with refunds.
And let's face it, if there are people out there who aren't satisfied with the latest iPhone, then every business has got a problem.
But you can drastically improve customer satisfaction by being smart with your sales copywriting. The trick is often to be aware of potential issues in advance.
Make a list of every possible objection that someone might have about your product or service and simply write a counter-argument alongside it. For instance, if you sell a product that's really expensive, perhaps it offers a lot of value.
Then try and include some of these arguments within your copy. The idea is to refute and defuse the objection before it even gets made.
Remember that people want results
That's pretty much true of any transaction.
Sorry to break it to you, but consumers don't really care about you, your business or even what you're selling in a way. They just care about what your product or service can do for them.
What result will they get? Remember, when people buy a drill they don't really want a drill. What they want is a hole. If your copy only does one thing, it should be to help readers visualise where they'll be and how they'll feel if they make a purchase.
Use social proof to add the gloss
Words alone can inspire people to take action, so long as it's good copy. But to add the finishing touch to your work, it's always a good idea to add some social proof.
Social proof adds a layer of comfort through conformity.
In years gone by, this might be referring to the number of consumers who had purchased a particular item. McDonald's in particular often reference the 'billions and billions of people served'. Nowadays, we're talking about testimonials, references, likes and retweets.
Leave industry jargon at the door
No matter what industry you're in, it has its own language. Be careful not to use confusing terminology in your copy, because that will really hurt your sales.
Whether something is jargon or not depends on context and common sense. Take an accountant, for instance. An accountancy website must appear professional, but does it need to reference P11D benefits as a service?
Because most of us won't know what that is. Well, it depends. If the accountant is targeting entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses who don't have an pre-existing knowledge of this sort of thing, then the answer is no.