People love to offer business advice that seems wise and helpful on the surface.
"Write clearly. Edit carefully."
Unless you’re brand new here, you know DCG is all about giving actionable advice. Telling people to “write clearly” is about the same as saying, “Playing the flute is simple. Just blow across one side and hit the right notes.”
This sums up the most important part of how making your writing clearer:
Be brutal in your editing — examine every word.
Still, there are many ways to do that. Read on for some useful copywriting strategies that boost clarity you can use to improve your sales and produce better copy.
The most important thing to do is make sure that you have a minimum of eleven main points you’re trying to make with your audience.
Oh, okay. You caught me. But seriously, that’s exactly what you don’t want to do. At the very most, pick two to three maximum main topics and leave it at that. If you choose too many memorable concepts, you’ll end up not communicating anything to anyone.
So, how do you know whether you have a focused topic? Simple: explain it in one sentence. If you can’t, then think again. For example, this article is about how to increase the clarity of your copywriting.
Then, ask yourself what you want your readers to feel. Good copy is evocative and causes people to feel something. You should also be able to explain that feeling in one sentence. It’s not, “I want them to feel pleasure and anticipation and also worry that they aren’t doing things correctly.”
No, not at all. Again, this article should have you feeling that improving your copy is possible.
Creative approaches to copywriting are important, but the bottom line is that most writers aren’t here just to show off their creative chops. In fact, the reality of the situation boils down to the phrase, “Creative, shmeative.” That’s not to say creativity isn’t important, just that it shouldn’t be your main goal.
David Ogilvy, considered one of the fathers of modern advertising, founded his agency (Ogilvy and Mather) in 1948. He had this to say about copy: “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative.”
So, eyes on the prize. You’re writing this to sell. Not for art.
Note also that this article already broke one of its own rules. It has six broad topics — although there’s only one main point in the article (how to clarify your writing).
Once you have some practice with these “rules,” you can break them.
Audiences don’t exist in some sort of vacuum. They change, and they exist in certain contexts. It doesn't matter if you've written ten pieces of copy for these viewers in the last six months or if you have a fully developed audience avatar. Things may have changed. Check the news.
In case you don't know what an avatar is, now’s the time to learn. Let’s use an example. The avatar for this article is a business owner in their thirties (up to about age 45.) This avatar is well educated and intelligent.
This isn’t something made up out of nowhere either. Research shows that this is the person who visits DCG’s website. They’re the people who read the content, subscribe, and opt-in.
To go further into avatar traits: Their company’s income will be somewhere between $100,000 and $10,000,000, depending on the stage of its development. Their personal income will be somewhere between $0 to $250k+, which is dependent on the stage of the company.
They probably attended college and have received a BA, or in some cases, an MBA.
Generally, they’re avid gym-goers. They often work with nutritionists and trainers because optimization is the name of their game. It helps to put their best face forward to clients, and keep stress in check.
Does that sound like anyone you know?
Although you can make an educated guess of who you're writing for, actual research is best. Do you know what your audience’s needs are? Do you know what they desire? Those things can change. Find out if there might have been outside forces that have made this change.
For example, there was a huge disruption in the health care test market in recent years. A company developed a faster, more cost-effective way to conduct tests. Then it emerged that they hadn’t been producing truthful data, and overnight, their “disruption” was itself disrupted.
Keep up with industry news, or you’ll wish you had. It can also be helpful to know where your targeted people congregate online and which blogs they’re reading. It can also help you understand what's happening in their field, what challenges they face, and how they think about them.
Learn about proper audience research here.
It’s said that the world-famous “elevator pitch” concept came to life through one of the developers of the elevator in the 19th century. It’s one of several brilliant ideas from Elisha Otis, founder of the Otis Elevator Company.
The concept says that you should be able to “pitch” your concept or company to a person in the time it takes to get to their stop in an elevator.
Early elevators were prone to crashing in those days, and many people were leery of putting them in their buildings. They were even less keen to ride in them. So Otis came up with an idea for a fail-safe brake, and once it was ready, he gave his “elevator pitch.”
He had an open elevator shaft built. It was built so that the public could see what he was doing. He told the crowd that he’d developed a new fail-safe brake and that his assistant would cut the cable while he was riding the elevator down. The brake would save him from certain death.
The crowd, of course, waited with bated breath. He stood atop the elevator, the cable was cut as he rode down the shaft. The brakes worked to stop the free-fall, and Otis became the leader in elevators (and the company remains a major player in that field to this day.)
His “elevator pitch” had worked on everyone before he stepped out of the elevator.
When it comes to explaining your central message for a piece of copy, you should be able to explain that in a similar length of time.
This means you only have a few seconds. If you can’t do that in that time frame, your work isn’t focused enough. The copy you’re reading now gives tactics to make your copywriting clearer.
How do you get to that level of clarity? Simple. Refine, refine, and then refine some more. Many tactics can help. See which you find most effective.
Try writing one-sentence paragraphs. You can always add information.
First, get rid of absolutely every bit of fluff. In that last sentence, “absolutely,” for example, is fluffy. Be brutal. Examine every word.
Watch out for pretentiousness. Are you using “ten-dollar words” when a simple word will work? If your message is right, true, clear, and evocative, you don’t have to pretty it up into some sort of package. Cut it to the bone.
Another example: don’t use words like “alliteration.” You can use alliteration — bravely, boldly blending basic, bright beacons beckoning buyers — but you don’t need to call it that.
Then get rid of adverbs. Many people have decided that adverbs are evil and must be eradicated from polite society. That might sound excessive, but adverbs should be replaced with words that have more impact.
Next, use every tool available to you. If you’re not subscribed to Hemingway, Grammarly, and Copyscape, look into them. Hemingway, in particular, is good for helping to clarify and streamline your work.
Hemingway will help remove run-on and repetitive sentences, something that Microsoft Word, for example, doesn’t do well. It’ll give you suggestions that’ll make things flow better and increase the readability of the work.
Grammarly is a browser extension used by millions of people to improve their writing. Not just a grammar engine, it’ll make suggestions to make your writing more functional.
It’ll flag repeated words, grammar, and spelling mistakes and will even make suggestions such as “consider making this date bold to draw more attention to it.” Even if you don’t accept their suggestions every time, the thought processes that Grammarly brings up can be useful.
If any part of your copy comes from previously published material, it’s a good idea to run your finished copy through “Copyscape.” It’s also an online and browser extension with a free version and a paid service. Copyscape does plagiarism checks, but it’ll also tell you how similar your writing is to other published material.
Now, stop right there. One of the most common mistakes that writers make is to expect computers to do a human’s job. No matter how much you pay for a writing program or service, there’s no foolproof technology for something as fluid as the written word. So use the tools, but don’t switch your brain off.
As Diane Sawyer said, “There is no substitute for paying attention.” Read your piece. Out loud. It doesn’t matter if your office-mates or your dog looks at you funny while you do it. It can catch a world of problems that you won’t find any other way.
If you know a child who’s old enough to understand the gist of your copy, ask them to read it and tell you what it’s about.
The phrase “Out of the mouths of babes” isn’t just a saying. Children can exhibit clarity and wisdom. They also often cut through a lot of the adult pretentiousness and fluff that we unconsciously throw around.
Richard Pryor famously said that only “children, drunk people, and seriously angry people tell the truth.” But, unfortunately, drunk people and angry people aren’t very reliable. So, children it is. If you can enlist one, see what they say your copy is about.
Among all of this consideration and editing, remember that being concise doesn’t always mean short. It might mean that, but short isn’t always better. Concise means “comprehensive and clear.” Sometimes that clarity can be achieved by emphasis. Consider emphasizing important information, but don’t do it too much.
If you underline or bold everything in a paragraph, you might as well not underline or bold anything at all. So, if you want to be clear, be sparing in your emphasis. It’s not glitter to throw around.
Here are 5 copyediting strategies that can dramatically improve and refine your copy.
If any part of what you’re writing will be published online, it makes sense to have at least a slight working knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) best practices.
At a glance, that will include understanding your titles and title choices, your meta tags, alt tags, and keywords.
Keywords are, in a sense, their own entire discipline. “Keywords” are very often key phrases as opposed to single words. The selection of the proper keywords and their inclusion can make the difference between a website that gets 50 views a day to one that gets 5000 — or 50,000.
One of the most useful tools for this is Google’s Keyword Planner. It’ll allow you to do a certain amount of research for free. Costs would come in if you use it to create paid advertisements on Google.
So in looking at that planner, one of the most important keywords in the context of copywriting is “paid search ad copy.” Others include “copy for email marketing” and “commercial copywriting.”
Other Keyword tools include Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Ubersuggest. They can help shed light on the words and phrases people are looking for regarding your copy and the things you’re selling.
Still, tools and SEO aren’t iron-clad. The most important thing is that people read what you’re writing. You are not going to sell a thing if people only read 150 words of your 500-word email. You don’t have to use any specific keywords in your copy every time, but it makes sense to know what they are and to use them where appropriate.
Keywords can be particularly useful in bullet points. Here are several reasons humans love bullet points and why they are used so frequently in modern writing:
Other important keywords for the topics of this article and the work DCG offers include:
Sadly, one can’t just throw a bunch of keywords in an article or an ad and expect much traction. To get your content ranked well, you’ll need to have some actual originality and sophistication.
Search engines are no longer the clunky, thoughtless, lumbering tools they once were. They’ll still make mistakes and missteps. Just don’t imagine you can fool them by just throwing a bunch of random words into your work.
It’s important to note that the tools will each give different keywords to consider, along with the cost (i.e., the most and least competitive phrases to use in your advertising). Don’t panic if Ahrefs and Ubersuggest respond with different words. You don’t have to — nor should you — try to use every keyword. Choose a few good ones.
It isn’t helpful if you jump around with different tenses and perspectives, e.g., past, present, and future. Look back at the copy you’ve used in the past; look at what your competitors are writing.
Generally speaking, an active voice is preferable to a passive voice. There’s a free tool by datayze online where you can check your document for passive voice. Hemingway also works.
Just make sure you don’t follow these tools with complete abandon. Sometimes what a tool finds and flags isn’t, in fact, passive.
Just like with grammar suggestions and even spell check, it bears repeating that the machines won’t find it all. Review, re-read, cut, re-cut, and then step away from your masterpiece and give it at least a few minutes.
Ideally, leave it for a few hours. Take a break from it. When you come back with fresh eyes, missteps and better ways to phrase or organize your copy should come to mind.
Here are 9 easy strategies to improve clarity in your copy.
Big companies have formal specifications for their branding. This goes for the exact shade of the logo, the size and proportions and spacing, and so forth. Many of them also have specific language that they use regarding their offers. It may be helpful to develop those kinds of guidelines for your company as well.
Branding is at least partly a promise, the promise of what your company will offer or has produced. Those promises can carry more weight when they’re clear, compelling, and repeated.
So, creating a consistent framework for all of your communication, especially your copywriting, will lead to better conversion rates. This will also create more “evangelists,” who spread the word about your business.
If you really want to write world-class copy, you might consider studying poetry. The best poets in the world make every single word work in the context of their piece. That is the precision that you are aiming for — and it’s attainable.
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