How To Write Good Copy

In a sentence, your copy should tell people what you’ve got, tell them what it can do for them and tell them what to do now. And, you should do this in an engaging way. Have you ever listened to a radio show while driving a car? You arrive in your destination, reach out to turn off the radio but stop to listen to the host. Finger on the power button, you wait until you’ve heard the story to the end. This situation is your aim when you write your copy. Force people to listen. Don’t let them off the hook.

One of the best copywriters of all time, Gary Halbert, said he writes what he thinks his subscribers need. If you read his newsletters, you’ll notice this pattern. Halbert’s writing style is a bit arrogant, he tells things straight and there is not much visuals to be seen (except for occasional tables that show some results/numbers or other data). However, he also gives very actionable advice and actual, existing numbers, addresses and contact information. He speaks straight to you and demands you to act right away. He talks to you like a trusted friend, tells about his friends and recommends good, talented people. When marketing his own seminars or books, he tells what kind of feedback (testimonials) he has gotten from the participants. He tells stories about the people who attended his seminars and their success stories.

In other words, you can learn a lot from him and his ways of working. Give people a blueprint of what to do, instead of leaving them enthusiastic but lost. Don’t worry about improving your image. Improve your substance. And instead of thinking about how much money you can earn, think about how many people you can help. Every now and then, toss a few pebbles of caring into your pond of contacts. Those ripples of friendship will return to you in waves of appreciation and loyalty.

“Knowledge is free, and only when you freely share it, does it increase. Not everything is about the money. Ask a dying man if you don’t believe it.” (u/shadowjack00 at Reddit)

No matter how vigorously you promote, if your website doesn’t have real, useful and unique information, it won’t fly. And you have to have a lot of it. On the other hand, a good site usually finds its audience. Halbert talks about the “law of reciprocity”. It means that if someone does something nice for you, you feel obligated to do something nice in return to them. Offer your readers a lot of free information. Real secrets, real value — don’t hold back. At first, people might be a little skeptic. What’s the catch? Why are you telling all this? Then they understand that it’s actually free and become grateful for your help. And when, after a rather long period, you hold a seminar, sell a book or offer consultancy, the sales pitch is not met with resistance or skepticism. You might be surprised by how popular they’ll be.

If you are enthusiastic about the product, that’s great! You have to be turned on to carry on. But don’t fall in love with it. Fall in love with the markets, the people you serve, your audience. In the end, it’s them you serve. Which is why it’s so important to have the right audience. The greatest of content won’t help you if it doesn’t reach the right people. So, get creative when thinking about how to get people’s attention and then give them a strong reason to give you their time. People like good news and emotional story creates an emotional link. Think how you could deliver them to your audience. In one of his letters to his son, Halbert uses small mentions throughout the letter to tell about a little bunny that he observed while writing the letter until the animal ran away.

When you fail, and at some point you will, remember to fail fast and carry on. You have to know when to quit, and the truth will set you free, even when it hurts. Embrace criticism. Challenge your boundaries and beliefs, and never be too sure of anything. Moving on from a failure is easier if you are constantly looking for new chances and opportunities to grow. Nothing will work if you don’t, so explore new ideas, strategies and concepts. This requires time but very little money and you can think about it like a treasure hunt. You’ll never know what you might find. Remember to keep a record of your findings, too. Review them every now and then to see if there’s something you can develop further. Give your first try the best shot. Go all-in. Test with the best people, start by offering the lowest price possible and be generous with terms. Write your best copy. Put all the options in the same basket at once so there won’t be what-ifs left to wonder.

When it comes to communicating, almost all of your thinking should be concerned with what you want to communicate and not the stylish stuff. Focus on the big idea. What benefit is the biggest one? What is so exciting about this thing? A good sales letter follows a few rules. It has to be:

  • Honest: no bullshit. Do not misguide people.
  • Informative: give value to all who read it, not just for those who want to buy the product
  • Lean: no wasted words. No clutter. You can use contractions and words and phrases used in everyday conversation. For example “dough” for money, “blown away” for greatly impressed and “bummed” for depressed or disappointed.
  • Balanced&reasoned: explain the pros. Explain the cons. Don’t rant or rave.
  • Illuminating: give an idea, inspiration or present an opportunity.

The first draft will suck. It’s okay. The more you write, the better you become, as long as you focus on the right things. If you offer a limp sales message with a beautiful layout, it’s basically zero. You can send it to millions with a few clicks but it won’t help you: you can’t multiply zeros. Copy cannot create a desire for the product. Instead, it can take the existing hopes, desires or fears and focus those onto a particular product.

The copywriting process

Marketing has an important role in assisting the customer to acquire knowledge of a company’s goods or services. Before you start writing your copy, you should find out your target audience’s problem. Why hasn’t the problem been solved? Look for previous remedies or solutions that have been attempted but failed. This helps you to build your audience’s anticipation about a new solution you’re about to reveal. Then think what is different now, who you are and how your product or service can help. What’s your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that sets you apart in a favorable way?

Gary Halbert describes the copywriting process that I find is very actionable and easy to start adapting:

  1. The first step is a fact sheet: what are you selling? Be specific, focus on the details and find out absolutely everything. Make this list huge. Take the product/service and examine it from every angle. Take notes on everything interesting and write down things that pop into your head (random thoughts, ideas, questions). This gets your creative juices flowing.
  2. The second step is to make a list of benefits based on those facts. For example, if a car is lightweight, it uses less gas and therefore saves money. People buy benefits, not features. Two basic human needs are the desire to gain pleasure and avoid pain. So, focus entirely on your reader. List the benefits and advantages.
  3. The third step is to think about the offer. Try to make it sweet and think what works best for your audience? Free trial? Huge discount? Money-back guarantee (the longer the customer has to request a refund, the more likely they are to forget)? A free gift or a bonus might increase sales but the bonus has to have a high perceived value and it has to be easy and cost-effective to fulfill on.

You should always have a collection of good ideas, headlines, ads, sales letters and commercials that you can check out when looking for inspiration. Look through them and then take a break. Let this all, facts and benefits, to sink in and simmer in your head.

What kind of people would be interested in this offer? How do you reach them? A good headline helps to catch their attention. Be provocative, questioning, shocking, surprising… But offer something newsworthy and benefit-promising. Why should they care about this? It’s all about targeting your message. You are allowed to customize your offer: different perks work for different people. Even though people always like a bargain (a fundamental fact), what is considered a bargain varies greatly. The price of your product needs to be seen as fair. If it’s more expensive than others, explain why. If the price is likely to drive people away, see if you can offer some kind of bundle with more items. A single, all-inclusive price usually appeals more than paying for “every bite” (per user, per feature, and so on…)

Then get to the specifics and say what you have to say. What you say is enormously more important than how you say it — but good spelling and grammar show respect and effort. Your message can never be too long but it can easily be too boring. People are sceptical. They don’t believe you’re honest or sincere. The way to overcome this is to give them details. Give your contact information. Tell where you are located, who you are, answer their questions, give references, include testimonials and tell people to contact you with questions. Offer very specific information. You can’t say “we do everything possible to ensure the safety of our patients”. What you must say is “here are the specific things we do to ensure the effectiveness and safety of you, as our patient”. If you are marketing yourself, mention some of your customers by name, show the results, mention some of your famous works, tell how you find and address the right people, tell the variety of themes and companies you have written about/for, tell where people might know your work, guide people to look at your work, give testimonials, be honest and tell your offer & demands.

Keep in mind the old saying: assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. When you are writing, remember that anything that can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood. Explain things in baby talk. Lead people by the hand. Use short words and short paragraphs. When you are marketing, observe the numbers. What people actually DO buy? People often say what makes them look better or what they “should be” buying/doing. It’s also true that people don’t always know what they want (I wrote about this a little bit here).The more recently a person has purchased something similar to what you are selling, the more receptive they are to your offer. Get them while they’re hot! Situations are not important. How you react to them is. Stay on top of things.

Writing Case Studies

Case studies are quite popular — people like to hear from other, real people using your product or service. You can tell the story of a happy customer or you can make a point or teach a lesson. What resonates with your audience? What matches the style, tone and voice of your company? Do you want to do a Q&A, a feature story, tell it in 1st or 2nd person POV? Whatever the style, follow a logical pattern. Explain the problem, introduce your product, describe how the challenge was overcome and sum it up with a happy ending. Not all impressive results come in number form: the end result can be impressive and important in other ways, too.

Offer video, audio or PDF. Make infographics or presentations. Show what your product has done on average, not just the grand slam. And give credit where credit is due, even to other companies. Share specifics and tell exactly what services were used, for how long and in what way. Customer quotes are essential. Use short, snappy quotes that explain your points. The testimonials like these that you get from your customers are very powerful in creating credibility. Place them strategically: in the first screen, areas where they’ll reinforce your selling arguments or in your order form.

Psychological Tricks

A while back I ate in a restaurant and ordered a “Jack Daniel’s Pannacotta”. While eating it (it was delicious!), I thought about how, instead of simply saying “A pannacotta spiced up with whiskey”, they chose to include the brand name. Maybe it had an impact on me? On some subconscious level? Who knows. But these carefully chosen adjectives can enhance the impact of your copy. Think about words like “freshly-cracked” or “brick oven -fried” or “wild Alaskan”. They create images and visions that might be emotional, nostalgic, vivid or, indeed, branded. Think of what kind of emotions do you want to evoke? Craftsmanship? Cutting-edge technology? Personalisation above all? What adjectives you could use to create these visions? (Beware of overdoing this! Leave these out from your Call-to-Actions or ordering instructions.

Never underestimate the power of your reader’s imagination. Questions and prompts like “what if…” or “think back…” let your readers envision the scene for themselves. It’s also effective to insert emotion: “Does it frustrate you…”, “does it make you furious…”, “do you feel paralysed by fear…” Replace rational words with emotional words. For example “speed up” instead of “accelerate” or “worried” instead of “concerned”, “let” instead of “allow” and “finished” instead of “completed”.

People like to have a reason for doing something. To get them to act now, give them a reason to do so and tell them what they gain for acting quickly. This could be a time limit, a limited supply or an upcoming price increase. Don’t make this too complex. Even a basic “you must order now because this offer expires on 31st October” is good.

Choose carefully when throwing numbers to your customers. People react differently to percentages and absolute numbers, even if the variation is like “10 percent” / “1 out of every 10”. If you want to convey a positive message, use real numbers, not percentages. People will understand you better, which leads to a bigger impact.

Sources:

Diploma in Social Media Marketing course by Alison

Gary Halbert Newsletter Archive

Knowledge-based Marketing by Ian Chaston

Web copy that sells by Maria Veloso

Brainfluence by Roger Dooley

How Experts Write Case Studies that Convert, Not Bore by Danny Schreiber

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