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Copywriting 101: The ultimate guide to writing copy that sells

What is copywriting

Mad Men’s Don Draper tells us that “advertising is based on one thing— happiness.” Since everyone is focused on the pursuit of happiness, it’s no wonder that businesses seek persuasive copy that promises to meet their customers’ needs.

The written word has the power to transform people’s minds about a product or service, to convince them to think differently about something, to propel them to perform a certain action and so much more. Companies harness the power of the written word across their various marketing assets. Indeed, strong copy forms the backbone of nearly all branding efforts, from deciding to create a website to advertising online.

For that reason, professionals in all industries should familiarize themselves with copywriting basics as part of growing their business. Here’s the complete beginner’s guide on how to write effective copy.

What is copywriting?

Copywriting is the activity of writing texts for advertisements or other promotional material. A key component of content marketing, copywriting combines the art of the written word with the science of advertising.

Think about copywriting as a call-to-action but on a larger scale. The goal of copywriting is to evoke emotions in potential customers that compel them to buy or learn about your product or service.

Copywriting appears across a wide range of marketing and branding assets. This includes online ads (think website banners, pop-ups and social media ads), website content, email newsletters, print ads, physical advertising spaces and landing pages. It’s also the backbone of scripted, auditory marketing materials, such as promotional content on radio, TV and podcasts.

A good copywriter demonstrates a deep understanding of a business’s target audience, delving into their psychology and learning how to persuade them with the written word. Copywriters can either be part of a marketing department within an organization, work for an advertising agency, operate independently as a freelancer.

what is copywriting

10 tips for writing copy that sells

Given the crucial role copywriting plays in marketing and advertising, every business professional should have an understanding of the most important copywriting principles. These 10 proven methods that will help you write original, persuasive copy for your product or service.

  1. Craft a compelling headline

  2. Write from a fresh perspective

  3. Know your target audience

  4. Respect the customer

  5. Emphasize your value proposition

  6. Be clear and concise

  7. Prioritize benefits over features

  8. Use the AIDA model

  9. Overcome customer objections

  10. Delve into your audience’s psychology

01. Craft a compelling headline

Your first order of business is to craft a headline that will grab your audience’s interest. Arguably, your headline is the most important part of your copy. Statistics have shown that about 80% of people read headline copy, but only 20% will read the rest.

To create the best possible headline, start with the four U’s:

  • Useful: Lead with a benefit that your audience won’t be able to ignore.

  • Urgent: Show your audience why they need to take advantage of your offer right away.

  • Unique: Tickle your reader’s curiosity by explaining why your solution is one-of-a-kind.

  • Ultra-specific: Use numbers in your title, as they build credibility and are proven to boost conversions.

This case study by ContentVerve shows just how critical headlines really are. A simple tweak to the landing page headline of a local Scandinavian gym led to a 38.46% increase in memberships.

For more inspiration, try out this blog title generator to help spark new ideas.

What is copywriting: Writing a strong headline

02. Write from a fresh perspective

With so many marketing messages coming at us from every possible direction, consumers are accustomed to blocking them out. That’s why brilliant copy has to surprise the reader by using different approaches and angles that they didn’t see coming.

Readers tend to predominantly focus on the first two paragraphs they see and read in a horizontal movement—what is termed as an F-shaped pattern. For that reason, effective copy should include the most important points at the very beginning. Use the first few lines of your copy to jolt your audience with a fresh perspective, and infuse your content with emotion to show them why they should care.

03. Know your target audience

According to the legendary British advertising executive, David Oglivy, “advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals." A copywriter can’t simply trust their gut instinct. They have to employ a data-oriented approach and have a thorough understanding of who their customer is and how the product solves their problems.

When dreaming up website content ideas, try to get into your customers’ minds and see from their perspective. One helpful way to do this is by creating buyer personas, or fictional representations of your ideal customers. Your buyer personas should include details such as demographic information, geographic location and career. This will give you a better understanding of the kinds of people you’re targeting with your product, also known as your target audience.

Once you form a deep understanding of your audience, you’ll be better equipped to tap into their wants, passions and dreams. That way, you’ll be able to create copy that directly speaks to their needs. This not only includes offering them solutions relevant to their interests and lifestyles, but also using language and cultural references that are familiar to them.

Copywriting tips: Know your target audience

04. Respect the customer

To quote Oglivy once more, “the consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” As such, your copy should show them consideration and respect.

While you should be direct, beware of coming across as pushy or aggressive. Well-crafted copy speaks to consumers as friends, which in turn makes the brand likable and builds trust in the company.

Furthermore, good copywriting is strong enough on its own. It should be truthful rather than mislead customers. With that in mind, avoid over-exaggerating product benefits, using false or misleading testimonials, or talking down to your readers. If you wouldn’t send your copy to your loved ones, it shouldn’t be sent to strangers either.

05. Emphasize your value proposition

A value proposition is a sentence that tells your visitors why they should buy a product or service from you, rather than from your competitors. Note that this is different from your slogan. Essentially, it’s a unique identifier that shows why your offering stands out.

Getting this message across is critical to writing copy that converts. In fact, value propositions are so crucial to an ad’s success that in a test conducted by QuickSprout, they found that they can help boost conversion rates by over 10%.

Don’t over complicate matters - keep your value proposition short, clear and direct. Examples of great value propositions include:

  • Slack: Be more productive at work with less effort.

  • Evernote: Keep your notes organized and effortless.

  • Zoom: Flawless video, clear audio, and instant sharing.

All your marketing materials should include your value proposition, as this helps persuade customers and is also a good practice for establishing your brand identity. The process wording of this proposition can vary, but you should include some form of it on crucial assets such as online and print ads, landing pages, and the homepage of your website.

What is copywriting: Value proposition

06. Be clear and concise

“Murder your darlings” is a phrase coined by English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing. It serves as a metaphor for how you should approach the editing process. One of the most important principles of good writing, the idea is to edit your work objectively and without sentiment, keeping it simple and direct.

Clarity and concision are the building blocks of powerful copy. Be ruthless with your edits: Avoid using industry terminology that your audience won’t necessarily understand or relate to, and rid your copy of excess descriptors, adverbs and fluff.

07. Prioritize benefits over features

A big mistake people make when selling a product is focusing on the product’s features rather than its benefits. Don’t simply describe the product in your copy. Instead, explain what your product can do for customers and how it can better their lives.

Then, connect that to the experience of using the product. Contextualize your product’s features by directly tying them to the benefits.

08. Use the AIDA model

Developed in the late 19th century, the AIDA model is used to describe the steps a customer goes through when purchasing a product. This is a useful formula to consider when you’re trying to get past writer’s block as you create your copy.

The acronym AIDA stands for:

  • Awareness: Begin each piece of copy by grabbing customers’ attention with an eye-catching headline or opening sentence. Explain what your product does, and make your value proposition clear from the beginning.

  • Interest: Then, pique your prospect’s interest in the product or service that you’re selling so that they keep reading. For example, you might provide a compelling statistic.

  • Desire: Next, build their desire to purchase your offering. Show your audience how badly they need your product or service, and how it will change their lives for the better. A great way to do this is by providing a clear list of the product’s benefits.

  • Action: At this point, make it easy for customers to close to the sale or otherwise convert. For example, you might have a CTA that takes them directly to a product page or signup form.

Follow these steps with all your copy, and you'll be creating evergreen content for your audience to enjoy for years to come.

09. Overcome customer objections

Let’s say a potential customer sees your copy and understands your value proposition. Still, they might have concerns: Can they trust your brand? Will your product really be all that it claims to be? Will it arrive on time or at all?

At this point, it’s crucial that you acknowledge and empathize with your reader rather than ignore their gnawing objections. You need to build mutual trust between you and your audience.

One way to do this is by adding a guarantee that will prove to your reader that they can only gain from this deal and have nothing to lose. You can offer free trials, for example, to help seal the deal. Testimonials from happy customers are another effective way to respond to people’s hesitation and assuage their concerns.

Copywriting: customer testimonials

10. Delve into your audience’s psychology

The way you craft your copy can increase the perceived value of the product you’re selling. For example, companies that add a payment in installment section to their copy (and make it more prominent than the full price) make the product appear cheaper.

Another technique is to structure your copy in the form of a story. In fact, studies have shown that 92% of consumers prefer ads and content with a storytelling element.

With short-form content such as emails, ads and landing pages, create cliff-hangers that speak to your audience’s desire for story. For example, you might conclude an email with an important question - and then delay the answer to keep your readers riveted and engaged.

To paraphrase Margaret Atwood, don’t wait for perfection because you won’t end up writing anything. Copywriting is all about being original and inventive - and that involves taking bold risks and learning from your mistakes. Use these tips as guidelines for your own experimentation and creativity.

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