Have you ever found yourself so fascinated with a copy on a product, website, or a brand’s social media content? That’s copywriting working its charm on you—the audience.
People often confuse copywriting and content marketing. For the record, content marketing refers to producing valuable and useful content to captivate and convert prospects and turn them into customers (and repeat buyers). These are blogs, infographic articles, listicles, how-tos, and more.
Meanwhile, copywriting means telling the readers where to click and what to do to evoke any action you want. For instance, this could be subscribing to your email list, reaching out for more information, or making a purchase. These are sales pages, service pages, ads, direct mail, and more.
Both disciplines are important. While they’re not one and the same, the idea of one without the other is like Holmes without Watson. Content marketing without a dash of copywriting is a waste of time, effort, and useful content.
Timeless Copywriting Rules You Shouldn’t Break
It’s hard to define what good copywriting looks like, and there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all answer to “How do I write great copy?” But in essence, it should communicate what your target audience wants and needs to hear—and it should be written well.
Copywriting can be an intimidating marketing discipline. That’s why there are general rules of thumb to help guide you in the right direction. That is, to command attention and inspire action.
Rule 1: Relax your tone
Good copywriting is informal and flows naturally. You’re creating something for the general audience, not for the academia. Unless you’re writing a legal document, write the way you talk.
This rule applies to content writing, as well. You want to let the audience know that they’re reading a piece of content written by a real person with a genuine desire to offer help, not some emotionless AI. Otherwise, how else are Google and other search engines going to notice that you have content that answers people’s queries?
For instance, a searcher would likely type keywords like “TV repair services” than “television repair services” because that’s how people say TV in real life.
Tips: Relaxed and informal writing is easier to digest.
- Use active voice: “Marketers love using our keyword research tool” vs. “Our keyword research tool is loved by marketers”
- Use contractions: “don’t” vs “do not”
- Use abbreviations: “TV” vs “television” or “TL;DR” vs “too long, didn’t read”
- Use colloquialisms: “tad” vs “a little bit”
Rule 2: Use the AIDA formula
This marketing model is an oldie but a goodie. AIDA is a simple formula that is designed to engage prospects and show them how beneficial your product or service is for them. The method is well-known for writing ads, marketing materials, and sales pages, but is also useful for writing high-power articles, PPC ads, direct mail pieces, and web pages.
AIDA stands for:
Attention: This refers to your compelling headline, the opening sentence, or sales copy that aims to snag the audience’s attention quickly with the first group of text they see. This is all about establishing brand awareness.
Interest: Now that you have their attention, the next goal is to secure it. You can do this by targeting their pain points that your product or service can solve in a relatable anecdote. Make it personal, as if you’re speaking to the reader directly to make them “feel.”
Desire: You build desire by putting your brand in a favourable light. Here, you describe the features of your product or service and show your readers how it can make their lives better. Write emotionally-driven content to make what you offer irresistible. You can illustrate this by using before and after photos or writing relevant and valuable tips and lists in blog posts.
Action: Once you’ve successfully swept them off their feet, your next step is to persuade them to make a specific and immediate action. This means including a convincing call-to-action (CTA), usually to invite them to make a purchase, subscribe to your newsletter, or make a call for more information.
For instance, “download our free eBook to learn how to write better emails” or “sign up to our newsletter for more updates.”
If you want to attract more people, boost your traffic, and encourage them to convert, apply the AIDA formula to your content strategies.
Rule 3: Choose simple words
Simple words can be powerful words. The reason why Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan stuck to people is that it’s simple and gets the message across without containing hard sell and obscure words.
Using jargon and big words in your copy tend to make it sound like it’s straight out of a thesaurus. It also makes writers sound snobbish, making the reader feel dull-witted and detracting them from the intention of the message.
Tips: Write copy that speaks to your readers’ level. You want to captivate your readers, not insult their intelligence. Use words even your youngest audience can understand. For instance, instead of:
- Utilise, write “use”
- Plethora, write “many,” “lots,” “tons”
- Cognisant, write “mindful”
- Reanalyse, write “rethink”
Using customer language allows you to say what they’re already thinking. Something as simple as using plain language—your customers’ own words—can make your content more believable and valuable.
Rule 4: Write to your readers
How can this make a difference, you ask? Writing to your audience feels like you’re having a conversation with them. Addressing them directly makes the content more personal and engaging, whereas writing with no direction in mind merely hands out information—nothing more, nothing less.
This approach and tone work effectively in email marketing, especially since it’s a personal marketing channel where you can start and build relationships with customers. Research shows that 84% of customers say being treated like a person, and not just another number in a spreadsheet, is important to win their business.
Tips: Humanise your brand. When writing an email, a blog post, or even a long-form content, talk to or write for your readers as if they’re in the same room. Write like how you would speak to them. This not only helps you write better in a way they would understand but also keep them from clicking away from your content.
Rule 5: Do your research
Gary Bencivenga is a legendary copywriter who’s just as renowned as other Hall of Fame copywriters like David Ogilvy, Joe Sugarman, and John Caples. He once said:
“The best copywriters are the most tenacious researchers. Like miners, they dig, drill, dynamite, and chip until they have carloads of valuable ore. John Caples advised me once to gather seven times more interesting information than I could possibly use.”
Tips: Whether you’re creating a copy or writing a blog post, the more you know about the product, service, and buyer personas, the easier it will be to write riveting content and persuade your target market.
- Dig deep and become a student of your own topic. If you understand it well enough, it translates into your writing
- Look beyond the big brands. Chances are, everyone has read a similar blog post, or your copy has been echoed in similar sales ads.
Research is the cure to getting you out of a rut. The more information you know about the product or service you’re selling or the topic you’re writing, the more angles you can play with.
Rule 6: Appeal to People’s Self-Interest
The type of copy and content that stand out and achieve success time and again are the ones that (surprise) calls on people’s self-interest. This means you want to craft something that tells your target audience what’s in it for them because, at the end of the day, that’s all they care about.
Tips: Write with rhythm, and present something they badly want.
- Maximise the headline: Write attention-grabbing headlines that will make people stop to click open your content. Headlines with 6–13 words generate the highest and most consistent traffic.
Push an emotional button: Translate the features into benefits. For instance, instead of saying:
- Feature: “Audit your website today using our SEO Audit tool.”
- Benefit: “Get a report of your website’s health in just a few clicks.”
See that the benefit here implies less effort when running a website audit, appealing to people’s desire for making their job easier.
Rule 7: Never Write More Than is Necessary
Excellent copy and good writing simplify complex information. Being specific, from your headline to your body, strips your content down to its basic form—the essence. The same rule applies in writing content like blogs posts, infographic articles, and more.
For instance, instead of writing “we want to help you save more,” you can simply write “save more.”
Tips: Whether you’re writing copy or a blog post, if you can cut an explanation without watering down the thought behind it, do so.
- Get rid of the fluff. To identify which is fluff and which isn’t, read the sentence again and ask yourself: “is the idea clear without it?”
- Draw parallels when necessary. In blog posts, relatable parallels or analogies can help break down complicated or highly technical concepts to an audience.
Statistics show that the average word count of top-ranking content in Google is around 1,140-1,285 words. Aim to write within the average post length, but don’t be afraid to exceed on your first draft. You can review and cut it down later for better readability.
Modern Tools to Improve Your Copywriting
Research shows that roughly 88% of B2B marketers use content marketing in their strategies. With that number, for content to be successful and effective, you need quality copy. This is where you can apply these tried-and-true copywriting tips. But since the digital marketing space is ever-evolving, you also need to adapt and adjust to trends accordingly.
To do that, you can look to the internet for its deep well of tools that can help you produce quality content and monitor your performance as you tweak and improve your strategies over time. Whether you’re crafting copy for emails, landing pages, social media posts, or articles, these handy tools can help polish your writing and level up your game.
Copywriters and content marketers alike know that if the headline isn’t strong, the ad or content won’t perform well. Drafting a kickass headline isn’t as easy as it sounds, so you’d definitely need the help of something like CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to examine what makes an excellent headline.
If you want to see if your headline has the potential to drive traffic, shares, and search results, input it on the tool’s field, then click “Analyze Now.” It will generate a report where you can see if the headline’s too generic, if there are parts to enhance, or if it’s strong enough.
Do your business and your audience a favour and speak in English. That means you need to get rid of corporate-speak when writing content, so your audience can easily understand your message (see Rule 2 above).
Unsuck It is a fantastic tool that calls out tech-bro terms or pretentious- and cringe-sounding words and suggests simpler alternatives. For instance, “key performance indicator (KPI)” can be “measurement of success” or “move the needle” can simply be “make progress.” This is useful when crafting email marketing materials. Often, it’s better to speak normally than sound too clever.
More than the character count, headlines should invoke emotion. The EMV Headline Analyzer is an underrated tool that measures the emotional marketing value (EMV) of your headline. It examines and tells whether your headline carries words that appeal to your target audience.
The tool says that the majority of expert copywriters’ headlines will contain 30%–40% EMV words, while the gifted ones will rate 50%–75%. Input your headline on the field, and it will show you whether or not your headline appeals to people’s empathetic, spiritual, and intellectual spheres.
When producing content, it’s your goal to make your writing clear and direct. The Hemingway App ensures you’re focused on your message, not on injecting needless flowery phrases or prose. When you feel like your copy or content needs some cutting, this comes in handy.
This tool lets you know if your content is loaded with too many adverbs, sentences in the passive voice, or hard-to-read sentences that need to be rewritten. It also suggests simpler alternatives.
You know you have a good copy when it’s free from poor grammar and typographical errors. To make sure your content doesn’t make such amateur mistakes, you need a reliable spell and grammar check tool, like Grammarly.
Grammarly scans your content for all kinds of grammatical woes and calls your attention for any problematic words or expressions in your copy. The tool gives you explanations for the highlighted mistakes and offers replacements to improve it.
Side note: Check out Grammarly’s web page, they have a snappy and compelling copy!
Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that’s commonly used for optimising SEO and readability. This tool reviews everything on your post—how often you mention the keyword, your headline, inbound and outbound links, alt image tags, and more. Then, it tells you how well or poor it’s performing and how you can improve it.
The Readability tab examines your post and categorises its findings into three bullets: red (problematic), orange (improvements), and green (good). It’s been found that posts with an orange or green ranking on Yoast receive more organic traffic than red-level ranking posts.
The Last Rule: Break the Rules
Blog posts, email content, landing pages, infographic articles, sales pages, and ads share the same goal: get the reader to make an action.
Much like one cannot simply run without first learning to walk, you can only bend or break these rules once you’ve mastered them. As a marketer, it’s your job to communicate your brand and offerings well, and however necessary.
To do that, you must monitor and measure the performance of your content—compare the before and after—to see how you can “break” the rules better.
The legendary copywriters always advise to keep it short, simple, and direct. But sometimes, evoking curiosity works better. For instance, Quicksprout tweaked their headline from “Learn how to double your traffic in 30 days for free” to “When Amazon, Viacom and NBC need more traffic to their website this is who they call.” It’s longer and indirect, but they saw a 31.7% boost in conversions.
No one’s born naturally good at writing. Take the rules above as your guide when writing. Follow, bend, and break some if need be, then you should be on your way to writing your best content. Of course, this comes with neat benefits: driving more traffic, clicks, and conversions.
As this post ends, take this timeless quote from David Ogilvy, dubbed as the father of information-dense advertising, and one of the most successful advertisers of all time.
“I am sometimes attacked for imposing rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hate rules. All I do is report on how consumers react to different stimuli. I may say to a copywriter, ‘Research shows that commercials with celebrities are below average in persuading people to buy products. Are you sure you want to use a celebrity?’ Call that a rule? Or I may say to an art director, ‘Research suggests that if you set the copy in black type on a white background, more people will read it than if you set it in white type on a black background.’ A hint, perhaps, but scarcely a rule.”