The Ultimate Guide to Copywriting

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Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith was once asked if turning out a daily column was a chore, to which he replied “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Thomas Campbell once stated that poetry came from him drop by drop.

Thomas Wolfe referred to it as bleeding as well, as did Hemingway at some point.

Of course, they were writing poetry, novels, and fictional stories set in imaginary lands, chock full of the heightened creativity most business owners only dream of.

But they were still right. There’s a reason why there are so many searches on how to improve your copywriting. So many guides on the subject, ready to “teach” you how to weave words together in a convincing pitch.

Writing is a difficult thing to do, whether you’re doing it in a creative setting or not.

And in order to have exceptional copy on your business website, regardless of your industry or offerings, you need to have a little dash of creativity anyway.

So, let’s take a look at some tips that can possibly improve your copy, help you get in tune with your own style of creativity, and make your pitch that much more effective.

But let it be known now: this is a very detailed guide that will push you to improve your copy for several business reasons. To get the most out of it, spend some time really implementing the techniques. Patience is king.

Understand What Copywriting Does & How

Copywriting for business isn’t like novel writing, or poetry writing. It’s not the same style, tone, nor does it have the same objective. However, it does involve creativity in the sense that you have to find a way to get your potential customers to convert

And you need to find a way to get your existing customers to keep coming back.

In other words, copywriting is both an art and a science. The copy is thought out on everything from website, to ads, newsletters, tweets, etc. with one goal in mind: to sell your product or service.

If it’s too “salesman,” it turns people off. But if it’s too passive, it’s going to be the written equivalent of the person who was too shy to take a chance in life.

So, balance is key. Balance, and a solid understanding of your business, your sellable items and services, as well as a solid understanding of your customers, but more on that later.

But how is this done exactly?

Well, think of a sales team. Usually that involves several sales reps, all going out and individually selling goods and services to people. Maybe making some phone calls, or frequenting stores like Walmart and setting up shop by the front door.

That is what a sales team looks like, that’s what they do. It’s effective to a degree.

But a copywriter? That’s a one-person powerhouse, because they can reach everyone at once. Whether it’s through Facebook ad copy, blog posts, sales letters, etc. it’s all done simultaneously, in a fraction of the time that it takes a sales team.

It’s no wonder copywriters are in such high demand these days, and make a minimum of $56k a year, assuming they’re established and well-connected.

Starting Off Strong

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Think of copywriting like a romantic relationship. Unless you start off with a solid foundation, you’re bound to run into some major problems. And although you can retrace some steps, make changes, and fix things, you’re still having to take valuable time out of your day to make changes that you probably wouldn’t have had to make had you just put in the effort from the start.

Understanding the Product

The first step in a solid foundation is to understand what it is you’re selling, but in detail. It’s not enough to know that you’re selling an anti-aging cream. It’s not enough to know what it looks like, or promises to accomplish.

You need your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to be as detailed as possible. And that means you should be looking to answer…

  1. The benefit of purchasing this product.

  2. How you solve your customer’s needs.

  3. What sets you apart from the competition (why should they purchase your item, versus any other).

Note: Your USP should be on every landing page and marketing campaign possible.

Think of the things that will appeal to your customers. Maybe you’re selling a fan. Most fans are terrible-looking, clunky, and therefore stand out in a room.

It’s a nightmare for anyone trying to perfect their home decor.

So, maybe your fan looks appealing for a change. Maybe your fan won’t stand out as an eyesore, but as a work of art. Maybe you sell a version of it in three different sizes, maybe some color options.

Suddenly, your fan sets you apart from the competition, because yours is actually pleasing to look at. And maybe you solve people’s needs this way. You provide the full functionality of a fan, but without the terrible look, so they can feel completely at ease in their well-decorated space.

The benefit? Peace of mind. The satisfaction of having put something together that looks and feels good. The comments of approval from friends and family who visit.

If you’re struggling to answer the questions above, try following these steps:

  1. Create a product description document

    • Highlight the product features

      1. Anything special about it?

      2. Benefits of each feature

      3. What issue does it solve?

    • How it works

    • What it looks like

  2. Create a customer research document

    • Figure out who is currently buying your product

    • Who do you think would like to buy your product?

    • But what does a typical customer look like? Note, this is easier to answer if you have a brick and mortar retail space. Otherwise, hopefully you attend conventions and other public events where you’ve run into your average customer.

    • Time and time again, what have you heard people say about your product (both pros and cons)?

    • What are the 1-2 things you keep hearing customers love about your product?

What’s interesting here is that although you may create a customer research document, you may not have a completely honest understanding of them. It’s a common issue entrepreneurs come across: thinking your target audience is one group of people, when in reality it’s another group entirely.

That’s why we’re diving into customers next.

Understanding Your Customers

In order to really understand your customers, you need to know what they need and what they want.

In other words, what matters to them?

Although you’ve already written (hopefully) a customer profile in the steps above, you only have a small snapshot of your customer base.

And it may not even be entirely accurate.

So, think of that as your starting line, your best guess, your origin. By the time you’re done with these next steps, you’ll see some level of progression either in detail, accuracy, or both.

Using A Survey

Surveys are amazingly helpful tools that you should absolutely be using. They reach out to people directly, and get honest responses about the things that you need to know more about. This eliminates the guesswork, and puts you in the seat of listener, without having to be there personally.

Ideally, you want to get plenty of people to take your surveys, since the more answers you get, the more insight you’ll be able to get. That helps when making deductions, rather than theories based on assumptions.

However, 1,000 survey takers is probably too much, so get however many survey responses you know you will realistically be able to read yourself. If you absolutely need a range, aim for 30-50 people.

Just remember, that means you have to incentivise 30-50 people somehow. Many entrepreneurs opt for creating contests out of it, where every survey taker gets a chance to win something in high demand, like a free subscription, an electronic device, etc.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you create the survey:

  • Open ended questions are the best, because qualitative responses provide more insight, which can then be used for your copywriting. You want to hear about your product in their words.

  • Always send the link to the survey to as many of your customers as you can. Ideally, you want to start by sending it to your most recent customers, however, people who have bought something from you in the last month. Blog subscribers are also inclined, since they actively take time out of their day to read your latest posts.

  • Give people time to reply. Life gets busy, and it’s easy to forget about the things that aren’t directly in front of you sometimes. Just remind them after three days to take a survey for a chance to win X or Y.

Evaluating Responses

When the time to read through the responses comes around, you’ll need to pay attention to a few things:

  • Answers that get repeated over and over again by several of the survey takers. This is especially true if the bulk of the survey takers express this view.

  • Phrases that clearly share some insight on how these people talk about your product. Sentences that start with “I liked how…” or “I really enjoyed that…” should always be noted.

Logically, this means that some questions are going to have some more insightful answers than others. Some questions will set the stage just right for valuable insight you wouldn’t otherwise get.

Pay close attention to the answers to the following:

  1. How would you describe the product to a friend or coworker?

  2. What questions did you have before buying the product? And did anything almost prevent you from buying it in the first place?

  3. What finally convinced you to purchase the product?

  4. Which features really caught your attention?

  5. Did this product deliver on what you hoped that it would?

The Concluding Story

Once you have all of your answers, you’ll be able to know exactly what they think about your product, in their own words.

And you’ll be able to fully understand the things they would like changed, and the things they love the most about it.

You’ll even have clear insight on what the most popular opinions are.

From there on, you can choose what to do with this information. You could make improvements, and release a version 2.0, that you write excellent copy for. Or you could simply improve existing website and ad copy by drawing attention to the things that your established customers are declaring from the rooftops already.

Because ultimately, that’s what matters. If you’re selling that anti-aging cream, and your copy focuses on the organic ingredients, but all the survey takers could talk about was the actual results, then… you need your copy to reflect that.

That is how you effectively give people what they want. You listen to the things that drew them to your product over someone else’s. They know your true selling points.

How to Grab People’s Attention

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Of course, if you’re going to draw attention to these selling points in your copy, you’re going to need to know how.

And it all starts with a punchy headline. Without that, they won’t even read the first line of your copy. And without that first line, they won’t care about the rest. It’s like a domino effect.

If you’re thinking that’s too dramatic, that surely it can’t really be like that, then pay attention: one single word can cost you, or make you a 46% profit increase.

So when I stress that your headline and first line of copy are important, I mean they can make an ad, a homepage, a website, a newsletter, an infographic, you name it. These lines will either resonate with your audience and draw them in, or they won’t convert well.

The Power of Persuasion

Your headline’s objective is to get the first line of copy read. And your first line of copy’s objective is to get everything else read. But through and through, all of your copy should be exceptional, from start to finish.

Here are the ultimate four rules to keep in mind:

  1. Your headline needs to be unique.

  2. It should be ultra-specific and audience targeting.

  3. It needs to convey a sense of urgency, to keep people reading.

  4. And it absolutely needs to be useful.

If you can’t accomplish all four in a headline, don’t stress out too much. It’s more of an ideal, not something regularly attained. But you should be striving to meet as many of those rules as possible each time you write a headline.

Let’s dive into each rule to get a better idea of what they mean.

Unique

You want your headline to be unique because you want to emphasize how different you are from competitors. Otherwise, if you sound like everyone else, then you must have nothing new to offer. At least, that’s what your potential customers think.

And they have a right to be that picky for several reasons. For one thing, they are constantly bombarded by advertisements. If they browse Instagram, if they check their Snapchat, if they still have cable, if they have the basic plan on Hulu, they see ads. Even browsing the internet results in ads.

And they are always seeing the same message with each and every ad: we have what you need. It’s always a variation of “Buy now with three low payments of $19.99.” Or of “What are you waiting for? Order today and stop ____.”

So, they’re jaded, they’re skeptical.

Another thing is, not everyone has a grand amount of disposable income these days. People need to be picky about how they spend their money, and unless your product seems worth it, they will opt for a cheaper alternative. This is especially true if you seem like everyone else.

Specific

This means that the headline should let customers know whether what you’re offering is actually interesting enough for them. Otherwise people have to kind of guess, and that requires time and effort, which most aren’t going to expend when there’s another 20 things on their to-do list.

Although boring, consider the following headline:

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“Free financial software for small businesses… Track your expenses, send invoices, get paid and balance your books with Wave.”

Immediately from the start, without wondering, people know who Wave’s target audience is: small business owners. They also know what to expect: everything from tracking expenses, to balancing books.

Urgent

The thing about conveying a sense of urgency is that by doing so, you capture people’s attention quicker. It’s innately built within us all to react when something seems urgent.

The best way to implement this strategy is to start off with something compelling, something that gives people the feeling of missing out if they don’t take the time to read it.

And what do people find more compelling than the possibility of doing something really wrong? For instance, the statement “Are you leaving profits on the table by not using abandoned cart software?” is compelling. Why? Because most business owners, to this day, do not understand that you can re-engage customers who leave items in their cart. And without re-engaging those people, you’re not capitalizing on their clear interest (they took the time to shop around, they’re interested, but need a push).

Another tactic is to state a shocking fact, something they may not be aware of. In doing so, it instills a sense of urgency, because they will likely realize they have something to tend to if they wish to improve their business.

For instance, “Did you know that doing something about your abandoned carts can lead to 15% more sales?”

Useful

Finally, you want your headlines to be useful. In a world where your average entrepreneur has to juggle fifty things at any one time, it’s nice to finally read a headline that just helps out.

That means that if you currently have a witty headline that doesn’t shed a light on the benefit of purchasing that product, you have some rewriting to do. It’s better to go with the boring, helpful headline, than the witty one that doesn’t offer any benefits upfront.

Ideally though, you want both, but it’s not always possible. You can only be so witty or charming about certain products.

That means “Create professional email templates in minutes,” would be a better line than anything funny, smart, attention-grabbing, etc. As boring and plain as it is, it clearly states the benefit: create something you need, in high-quality, without spending too much time on it.

It’s Not About You

Before you throw up your hands in defeat — because if not about your business, then what in the world could your copy be about? — your copy shouldn’t be about you, to a degree. Sure, it should be about their issues, their options, and their ability to choose a solution to solve those problems.

But you’re the only offering those solutions.

Therefore, your copy should be about how they can solve their own problems by using your products. Don’t say things like “I can solve your problems,” or “This product is guaranteed to…”

Instead write from an angle that gives them control. For instance, “Start feeling like the organized entrepreneur you really are, and balance your books with Wave.” Suddenly, you’re letting them envision a clean, organized business, you’re flattering them, and you’re offering a solution that they can use if they wish.

They remain in control, the copy is about them, but it also sells your product.

Here’s a good example of great copy by Bones Coffee Company, an up-and-coming coffee brand that’s been making waves with their ad campaigns on Instagram:

Notice, although this is the copy under their About Us page, they write about the experience of a good brew, and highlight how much they want their customers to enjoy it. Although they talk about their coffee, and describe it as small batch and fresh, they make it clear that their benefit is quality coffee delivered to your door.

In other words, if you’re a coffee lover who doesn’t want to leave home, you can still get your high-end, fresh, smooth coffee.

Now let’s consider some copy that although well-written, is still too much about the brand, and less so about the customer:

This copy is by the ever-popular Lime Crime makeup website. They are an award-winning, ethical makeup brand, known for high pigmentation, a grunge style, and making most blogger lists of favorite beauty products.

And although their copy truly reflects some amazing points, and features good phrasing, it’s still just a little too much about them.

Take the second paragraph, for instance. There is no mention of customers. There is no sentence that states any customer issues being solved.

In fact, in their entire copy, their only reference to customers is the last sentence of the first and third paragraphs.

So, moving forward, follow these simple steps to avoid making this mistake:

  1. Write from the mentality that you’re offering a solution that customers can use to solve their own problems.

  2. Always make it clear who it is you’re targeting, and what you’re looking to provide (benefits).

  3. If you have previously written copy that reads well, but is too much about you, much like Lime Crime’s, go ahead and select some of the best sentences about yourself, and make them about your customers. Remove all unnecessary details, and spin it in such a way that makes it about their wants and needs, all the while talking about your product.

If you’re struggling with number three, consider the example below:

Original Lime Crime sentence:

We design, manufacture and assemble our quality products right here in Los Angeles, using globally-sourced ingredients for high performance wear and high color pay-off.

Rewritten Lime Crime sentence:

For those who are all about high performance wear and high color pay-off, Lime Crime has the quality and globally-sourced materials needed to make that one-of-a kind, unforgettable look come true.

Writing Lessons to Live By

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Now that we’ve covered what your copy should ideally do, and why, it’s time to dive into what constitutes good writing.

First of all, don’t stress about your grammar, or what your grades were in English class. You don’t need to be the best grammar police the world’s ever seen…

Because that’s what editors are for, as well as free online software.

But you do need to be a good writer. You simply can’t fake talent. When you read something broken, ill-flowing, and grueling, it’s tough to read. It doesn’t have that smooth, easy effect that good writing has, where you don’t have to struggle to comprehend it all.

And to get to that point, you need years of practice. Ernest Hemingway himself wrote a minimum of 320 words per day. Whenever he wrote upwards of 2k, he felt on top of the world.

And we all know how talented the man came to be.

So, let’s dive into some tactics that can help you improve your writing both in the short and long term:

Short Term

  • Always write in a conversational tone. Avoid jargon, unnecessarily complex words, and stiffness. Contrary to popular belief, you can be both informative and compelling without having to mimic your college professor. Take this guide for instance.

  • Short paragraphs are key. This keeps you from rambling on and on, repeating information, which means you stay focused on what matters the most.

  • Create a slippery slide of information. Each section should lead into the next one easily. One thing that helps with this is to think logically. Step one is always followed by step two. This guide is written in such a way: foundation goes first, which leads into knowing who your customers are, which then results in figuring out how to best capture their attention, etc.

  • Write quickly, without overthinking it so much. There will be mistakes, there will be plenty of missteps, but all in all, you’ll have a first draft. From there, editing can improve it until it’s polished and ready to post.

  • Speaking of editing, if you’re running things by yourself (solo entrepreneur) and are writing everything, get a loved one to edit your copy for you from time to time. Take them out for coffee in return, or dinner. It’s always nice to catch up with a friend, and get a fresh pair of eyes on your paper. Otherwise, consider hiring some help.

Long Term

  • Write on a daily basis, even if it is just over 300 words.

  • Write about anything and everything possible, so that you can be versatile and effective.

  • If you’re struggling with writer’s block, take a page out of Hemingway’s solutions: write one true sentence. Focus on the one sentence that you know is true, and it will open the floodgates.

  • Having 10k words of needless details pales in comparison to 4k of essential information. Always edit out whatever isn’t adding any value.

  • Reading really does help your writing. The more you read, the better your vocabulary will be, the better your tone and phrasing, etc.

Combining Copy With Visuals

This is an extension of the previous section, which sought to help your writing. Only this section solely focuses on telling a story in more than one way.

Because after all, good writing leads to exceptional copy, but… if that’s all you have to offer, it will only be a giant wall of text on a page.

A good storyteller, a good writer, understands that by combining things like graphics, images, video, and even gifs, they are elevating their customers’ experience. And drawing attention, as an added bonus.

But there are a few rules:

  1. Images should either be stock, or original content. Either way, they should be relevant, and on-brand.

  2. Limit your use of gifs when appropriate (Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)

  3. Video should always add more detail, so that it covers things that the copy doesn’t (makes it valuable).

  4. Quality is everything. If you’re posting your original content, it needs to be up to par.

  5. Be original, yet attentive. Every visual you add should be 100% unique to your brand, and reflective of it, but it should cater to your customers’ needs.

It’s Not Just Words

Turns out, your business copy isn’t just a collection of words. It’s about how you present yourself and your products/services to the world. Everything from the tone, to the verbiage counts for something to your target audience, because it’s usually your first form of making contact with them.

But before you get overwhelmed, know that with a few tweaks, such as those covered just now, you can improve your copy, and begin to make your mark on the world. So get out there and put your best face forward.

Will you use any of these tactics in your business?

If so, leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts on your digital marketing approaches!