Copywriting, like any other style of writing, is one of those things that most people shy away from. The level of skill required to make your points in a clear, concise, yet effective way alludes them, and frankly, can you blame them?
I’ve done my fair share of copywriting over the years, and even I have moments where I need to step away from the keyboard and relax for five minutes just to get my points lined up correctly. I figure if I’m overwhelmed, then surely my audience will be too.
So, I’ll cut right to the chase: copywriting, and writing in general, really, is hard work. It involves proper use of language, clear communication, a certain level of personality, and yes, knowledge. And these things don’t just happen overnight. It takes years of experience for any writer to really hone their talent.
But this doesn’t mean you should lose hope. Any entrepreneur worth his/her salt would be wise to practice, and sink their teeth into expert tips and tricks. Not only does it enable them to connect with their audience directly, it’s also a great way to reflect an authentic, original brand voice. After all, there’s only one you.
To help you on your copywriting journey, we’ve wrangled up all the formulas, essentials, and tips worthy of recognition. After reading this guide, you’ll know what the copywriting process really involves, and how to improve your skill level over time.
But as a reminder, it’s important to be patient. Knowing the do’s and don’ts of anything doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to excel at something. Writing, much like anything that requires skill, takes plenty of time to get right. And even two or three decades later, there’s still going to be stuff to learn.
It’s a never-ending journey, but it has to start somewhere. Why not start it right here, right now?
The copywriting process is a little different from its more creative counterparts. Unlike creative writing where you need inspiration, copywriting is all about preparation. Collecting persuasive arguments (cases for why anyone should buy your goods and services) is the very first step.
I recently wrote a guide on persuasive storytelling, so I suggest you start there if you need help with this.
For the sake of clarity, however, we’re going to highlight the five main steps of the process here. This view will not be focused on persuasiveness, but the overall bone structure of copywriting itself.
Step 1: Determine Your Target Audience
Whatever you do, don’t skip this part. Don’t assume you have this figured out, because you’d be surprised at how many people lose sight of their customer base without even really noticing.
When there’s a lack of interest in your product, or when the customer base can’t afford what you’re putting out, you’re missing your target audience. If this intrigues you (it should), then try reading my digital marketing guide, which touches on audiences.
But let’s assume for a second that you know who your customers are. You have it all figured out, so now what?
Now you seek to understand their fears, struggles, and unfulfilled desires (wants). Understanding what your audience wants and needs is fundamental to the copywriting process. It effectively guides your writing, making the entire process easier.
That means next time you’re in your store, assuming you run a brick and mortar, or next time you attend a convention and get to talk directly with your online shoppers, listen to their questions. Use surveys and polls if you need to. Or better yet, ask your customer service team. Look through chatbot transcripts. Do your sleuthing to figure out what customers are asking, and then answer those questions within your copy.
Step 2: Defining Your CTA
Call to actions are what you want your audience to do. Maybe you want them to sign up to emails, or to your online course.
And while most people associate CTAs with landing pages, they go far beyond. For instance, in copywriting, every piece of content should have a purpose. You should focus on one action that you want your reader to take.
You wrote a book on marketing, and your CTA for that is to get people to hire you. But your landing page is all about getting them to sign up to a marketing course. And your most recent email asks people to reach out for a free consultation. That’s three different CTAs.
That means in your email, you wouldn’t include arguments relevant to the marketing course, because the email’s CTA is the free consultation. Each piece of content would only focus on one CTA.
Step 3: Entice People
Copywriters who focus exclusively on products, and features, have a lot of practicing to do. It’s a huge mistake, one that could cost a company quite a lot of revenue, not to mention growth.
The reason is because good copywriting teaches people how to do something. It teaches people that what they need and want can be achieved.
For example, suppose a surf shop managed an ecommerce site and blog that focused entirely on products. Every single post on that blog was a list of features, telling expert surfers what they could expect from each board.
Notice, “expert surfers.” New surfers, or curious onlookers with a thirst for adventure would automatically be left out of the niche, focused lingo. And if that doesn’t say “You’re not welcome here,” then nothing does.
But imagine if that same surf shop redid their blog and began creating posts that focused on educating people about surfing. Maybe even offered lessons, or suggestions based on skill level. Posted videos of people surfing using the product sold in stores, with real testimonials and reviews that focused on actual customer experiences.
Now that would really sell the boards!
Step 4: Establishing Credibility
Think features, details, test results, reviews and testimonials. Anything that proves your product has been put through rigorous testing prior to hitting the shelves. This makes your product look reliable, and therefore, makes your brand look credible.
Use social media as a good platform outside of your copywriting to showcase this too. This gives you both a written word and a visual space to prove yourself as a brand. It’s one of the many reasons why social media marketing is so integral.
But remember, it’s crucial that you balance both emotion and logic. Emotion is what sells a product. It’s the act of showing people that what they want and need is possible. It’s the act of showing them what their lives could look like if they were to become customers. But logic is what justifies a purchase. Just look at some common logical thoughts involved in the buying process:
“I would have needed this anyway.”
“I was already in the area.”
“It’s now or never. And if I don’t get it, I’ll regret it later.”
“It has everything I wanted in an X, so why keep looking for something that I’ve already found?”
“I love this brand so much, and I really want to support a cause that’s dear to me.”
Good copywriters will balance both logic and emotion to sell your items, while establishing credibility.
Step 5: Handle Possible Objections
In every buying process, there are always objections, no matter how small. When someone purchases something, they might ask themselves if they could find this cheaper elsewhere, or if they really need it. They might question shipping costs, or even product quality.
That’s why it’s so important to dissolve those fears as soon as they arise. Nothing should stop the buyer from going through with the transaction. The longer they have to think things through, the more likely it is that they’ll decide against the purchase.
For example, suppose it’s a semi-annual sale, and there are plenty of things to purchase at a store. The reasons for buying? Everything is on sale, there are many options, everyone else is buying (peer pressure is a huge motivation, even into adulthood), and it’s really now or never because the sale doesn’t last for a very long time.
But imagine for a second that you look down at your basket and begin to wonder if you really need all those things. You have no real need for them, you just want them because they’re on sale. The discount makes it all enticing, but… it’s not the best or smartest use of your money.
And then you start to think about alternative uses for that money: bills, household products like cleaning supplies, food, toiletries, etc. You start to realize that your actual essentials require a hefty sum of your paycheck, and that spending the rest of the money on things you don’t actually need seems fruitless.
You’d be better off putting that money toward a big goal purchase. Maybe you’re a graphic designer, and decide to cut back on spending to save up for a brand new iPad, for example.
Well, that’s good for you, to better rethink purchases, and decide on spending on things that actually matter in the grand scheme of things. But it’s terrible for the business that relies on making sales to stay afloat.
Flip things around, and you’re the business owner here. If no one ever buys from you, you’re going downhill fast, and then… you’re forced to meet failure face to face.
That’s why you have to tend to a few major points:
Sell things that will really be needs, and market them in such a way that celebrates that need. For example, clothing may seem like a splurge, but it’s a need to have different types of clothing for all events, from job interviews to weddings, and beyond.
Think about who your audience is, as this will tell you what they’re all about, and what’s important to them (needs).
Consider the action you want them to take (buying) and why they even should. This will help you come up with solid reasons why you’re better than the competition.
Why should anyone trust you? What have you done to prove yourself?
Just remember, whatever you write, it’s always critical that you spend some time editing, rereading, and reading out-loud. People may be reading the copy, sure, but odds are that you’ll be repeating some of those same points out loud in-store or to people in conventions and events of all kinds. If you’re going to sell persuasively, you need to sound believable and helpful both through copy, and verbal communication.
By now, you’ve probably been employing a copywriting formula that looks something like this:
Encourage action (CTA)
There are many variants of this formula such as Interest, Desire, Conviction and Action, known as IDCA, or Picture, Promise, Prove, and Push (PPPP).
Whatever variant, there are several, well over 30 total. But see, they’re all versions of the same baseline formula.
So, what’s wrong with these formulas? Well, they’re super simple, which seems nice, but it’s missing some major points that liven it up and update it for the modern age. Remember, advertising is an old game. It’s been around for decades. Before there were Facebook Ads to help entrepreneurs, there were only top of the line agencies and scammy options.
For example, the first step in this dated formula is to attract attention, but if they’re on your website, then they’re already paying attention. Don’t annoy your visitors with attention-grabbing signs that you don’t even need.
The second step is to generate interest, but the formula doesn’t even tell you how to go about that, and that’s the most critical component. It’s your marketing campaign. It’s the step-by-step process which you use to generate sales. Without guidance, you’re left with pretty much nothing.
So, what formula should you use?
There are three selling points that matter to modern audiences: what your product does, what makes it stand out from the rest, and how it helps them in their lives. All of this is easily translated into a three-step marketing copy formula consisting of Features, Advantages, and Benefits (FAB).
But as we’ve covered before, good copy is human in its approach. That means when you cover both the Features and Advantages sections, you should be aiming to present that information within the context of day-to-day impact.
Imagine you’re selling a new, portable video game console. One of the features is that you can take it anywhere. The advantage of this is that you can use it on the bus, in the car, on the train, in the airport, on the way to work, on your lunch break, at the local coffee shop, etc. The benefit of this is that you don’t need to wait to be at home to finally play your games. You can take them with you and squeeze in playtime whenever you have a few spare minutes between responsibilities.
Notice how that all connects together. You’re taking a feature that would otherwise seem pretty hollow, and using the advantage to transition it into a deep explanation of how that impacts the buyer’s daily life.
This simple formula can be applied to all businesses, B2B or B2C, regardless of what it is you’re selling.
Alternatively, another formula you could use is PAS, consisting of Problem, Agitate, and Solution. This formula is based on the fact that people are far more likely to act based on problem solving, rather than personal gain.
For example, when someone buys a new techy gadget, they may come about it from a personal gain angle. “This is trendy, this will make me look stylish and in the loop.”
But that doesn’t sell as much as someone actually needing the new techy gadget because their older model broke and they need it for work. Say, a computer.
If your computer stopped working, you’d need a replacement, flat out, no questions asked. Otherwise, you’re left with no computer, which in this day and age, is like losing an arm or leg.
There’s nothing more impactful than a product that directly solves a major problem for the buyer. It requires zero convincing, aside from perhaps making sure they know you are the best option amongst the competition. A sale is being made either way, it’s all a matter of making sure you’re the one who gets that sale.
To use this formula, follow the steps provided:
Describe the problem.
Agitate, which means highlight the emotions that are associated with having that problem. If you can relate through experience, even better.
Then offer your solution, and point out what it does/has that solves the problem, and makes it the best option on the market.
Note, if you’re unsure which of these two formulas to use, why not try both? Use A/B testing and Google Analytics to figure out what works best on your audience. You might get plenty of insight in this way, one that will promote business growth, as well as a better understanding of copywriting as a whole.
Just to throw this out there as a word of caution, remember that following any of these two formulas is just a suggestion. It’s something that may help, something that has helped many entrepreneurs out there, but you don’t need to approach your copy in this way to be successful.
In fact, no one is saying that if you do use these formulas, you’ll be successful. In life, there are no guarantees.
What can be said, however, is that your content needs to address people’s needs and problems above all else. If you can make that the focus, you’re in much better shape.
That’s why it’s so important to know what your pain points you’re actually solving, for who, and how. Know yourself, your product, and your audience. This is what YouTubers and every entrepreneur putting out video content have to learn quickly. They use a visual medium to convey the exact audience they’re targeting, so if they miss the mark, it’s obvious.
If you’re still not sure about your audience, try your hand at building a thriving online community based around a common idea, or mission (the brand’s). Don’t lead with ecommerce, or even link building, or a hope that there’s a journalist amongst the mist that will take note and give you press coverage. Simply use it as a creative space to connect with likeminded people, and aim to learn their wants, needs, and pain points. Only once you’ve gathered enough intel, and established trust, should you even inform others that you run a business that’s relevant to their interests.
After all, if you haven’t learned the lesson by now, networking is one of the defining factors of a business’s success. It’s how you get your product launches noticed, how you get on influencer radars and really get on the map.
Now that we’ve covered the right angle your copy should take, and the formulas best fitting your modern audience, it’s time to cover the essential rules that all successful copywriting follows. Consider these rules unbreakable, unless it’s for a very legitimate reason.
Rule 1: Know Your Audience
This has been said before, both in this guide, and basically the rest of them. Knowing your audience is critical in marketing, because otherwise you’re likely marketing to the wrong group of people.
Or even still, you could be marketing to the right people in the wrong way. Maybe through a dated marketing formula, or by focusing too much on features rather than benefits, for example.
Rule 2: Don’t Make It Complicated
Jargon and other niche words that only super experienced people would know about your market isn’t the way to go. Copywriting―good copywriting―is welcoming to everyone. The no-fuss wording makes everyone feel like they can linger and explore, maybe learn a new lesson. They are more likely to keep reading and figure out that you have something valuable. Something that could solve an issue that they’ve been having.
Rule 3: Steal Your Copy
No, don’t copy and paste. And certainly don’t go to your competition for lines either. For one thing, that’s unsavory behavior known as plagiarism, but also, your competition probably has no idea what they’re doing in terms of copywriting.
So, where do you steal copy from? Clients and prospects. They tell you what it is they need, and how they would benefit from that solution. They tell you what they love about your business and your offerings. So, listen to them. Use their lines, answer their questions. Use copy that directly relates to them.
Rule 4: Put In the Work, No Shortcuts
All copywriting involves research, planning, outlining, writing, and editing. It is a craft that takes up a lot of time and energy, and only through consistent work and effort do you manage to get any good over time.
There’s no way you can fast-forward the process. There’s no effective way to speed through the copywriting process. That means hacking off bits of the process, like the researching or the outlining, is just going to set you up for failure.
Rule 5: Begin With the End, Like A Fiction Writer
Fiction writers tend to start with the end whenever they sit down to write a new story. They imagine what the end will look like, and then they develop the scenes and chapters that lead up to that moment, weaving their stories carefully so everything aligns.
It’s the same way with copywriting. You should be focusing on the end, with the customer successfully resolving their issue by using one of your products or services. How did they get there? What did you provide and how did you convince them to take action? How do they feel now that their issues are resolved?
Rule 6: Make Benefits Your Focus
Again, getting hung up on the features doesn’t make anyone care about your offerings. The features don’t tell them why your offerings matter. It’s important to use advantages as a transition into the benefits. Your customers should always know how a feature impacts their daily life. Take the human approach.
Rule 7: Let Your Interest In Helping Others Shine Through
A genuine want to help other people always shines through. Or at least it should. It’s this genuine approach that makes you stand out from many competitors who typically take on a very pushy, sales-pitchy approach to move product.
Rule 8: Write for Both Scanners & Readers
We touched on this before: some people read (those in the early stages of the buying process) and others scan (people who know what they want, and are farther along in the buying process). Good copywriting will use formatting, such as titles, bold lettering, and spacing, to draw attention to key areas within the copy. This makes both scanners and readers happy. Read my guide on Digital Marketing for more tips on this. My NLP Copywriting guide may also be helpful to you.
Rule 9: Use the Inverted Pyramid
Start with the most important information first, because studies show that people tend to start off reading in a very engaged way, and then lose interest as they keep reading. You don’t want them to lose interest before they even get to the good parts. Start off with those parts, so you can hook them right from the beginning.
The Helpful Tips
Time to tie a neat bow on this guide in the form of super helpful tips that are guaranteed to improve your writing significantly. Unlike the rules listed prior, these tips are mere suggestions you could follow if you wanted to get really good at the writing craft. If you’ve been looking for a way to improve, this is the section to focus on.
First and foremost, avoid the poor sentences where nothing is outright specified in detail. Don’t tell people that your app is used by many, tell them it’s used by 1.5 million people. Don’t tell people that you have world-class service, show them testimonials.
Just make sure they’re not overly sugary, like “So talented, I’d recommend her wholeheartedly!” Keep things real and believable. This is why those paid testimonials are such a terrible idea.
In that same vein, get specific with your numbers. Use digital numbers, or a mixture when tackling big numbers like 3.5 billion.
Another tip is to be bossy about your call to action. You don’t want to give them the option to click or buy, you want to tell them to do it, in a nice way, of course. Lines like “Sign up now to register your seat in the course,” is a good idea.
It also helps to give people a good reason to convert. Tell them what the benefits are, if they’re saving money or making more of it, becoming happier, becoming more stylish or thinner, or just gaining a feeling of belonging.
Also, don’t avoid the hard stuff. The objections won’t dissolve if you don’t address them, so it’s always important to find a very good answer that absolutely deactivates those feelings of doubts.
To cover the most important tip of all, don’t write self-indulgent content. Humble writing is key, because it shows people that you genuinely care about your cause, rather than your profit or credentials. For example, no one cares that you’re an award-winning entrepreneur, or writer, or anything else for that matter. Unless it’s for a resume, or a potential career move, that information isn’t even pertinent. What really matters to your customers is what you can do for them.
That means if you can convert their self-deprecation into self-love, that’s the stuff you should be writing about. If you can change their lives for the better, they deserve to know. But don’t write in a way that elevates you, or boosts your ego. Remember, this is about them, not you.
Finally, cut out the extra fluff while you’re at it too. That means all the adjectives that are really just placed there as a way to make your content seem longer than it is, really need to go. The marketing drivel that serves no purpose other than to sound pushy? You can omit that too. And wording that suggests you are the “best” or the “quickest” at something also need to be erased. You can get your points across with specifics instead.
For example, “best” can be substituted with “high-quality.” And words like “quickest” can be turned into specific numbers, such as 24 hours.
Feel free, however to use keywords smartly. Be tactical about the ones you use, and have them boost your SEO. Avoid overuse, or else it’s obvious and becomes fluff, but a tactical use of these words can not only liven up your copy, but help more people find it. That means thanks to SEO, you can help more people and increase your conversion rate.
In other words, your writing needs to be streamlined and focused on what matters the most. Remove anything and everything that comes off pushy, insincere, fluffy or otherwise pointless. Anything you publish needs to directly fuel your goal: to show people how your offerings can improve their lives. That goes for all of your lead generation and magnets, all of your chatbot preprogrammed statements and lingo, and all of those SEO-building blog posts.
Copywriting, like all forms of writing, isn’t for the faint of heart. If you lack the patience, time, and want to get good, you’re better off either hiring a copywriter for yourself, or reaching out to a digital marketing consultant for recommendations (If you want to know more about them, and what working with them is like, read this guide).
Because we won’t sugar-coat it: copywriting takes skill and practice. Experience reigns above all in most things, and it’s no exception with writing.
That being said, if you have the drive, you can do anything with a bit of time. This guide is packed with tips and tricks that any copywriter would benefit from, so you have a solid foundation to start with right here.
And remember, no matter how good you think your copy turned out, always edit, read it out loud, and have others give you suggestions. Feedback and careful self-criticism are what keeps you learning for the entire duration of your career.
So, what tip or trick stuck out to you the most, and why?
Let me know in the comments below, I love hearing from you all!