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How to write better copy (in 12 easy steps): Advice from a freelance professional copywriter
If you’ve ever sat and stared at a blank page, wondering where to begin, this is for you (spoiler: It’s all in the planning). Or if you regularly find yourself reading your words back and beginning to wonder why you bothered in the first place – read on.
We’ve all been there at some point – even as a professional copywriter occasionally I still catch myself procrastinating because of the blank page. And with every read through, I find another way to make my copy clearer, more concise and persuasive.
The next 12 tips will help you do the same with your copy:
1. It’s all in the planning
Without proper planning, how do you know what to write? Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), spend time creating a copy brief.
As a freelance copywriter, I start every project with a comprehensive briefing document completed by my client. Essentially, it’s a set of questions that pulls out 99% of what I need to know about the subject. And I glean the last 1% by talking it over with them (and that’s when the golden nuggets appear).
If you’re creating copy for your own business or workplace, then it probably doesn’t need to be so in-depth. But there are a few questions you need to answer before you start (bonus tip: do this whether you’re writing web copy or something else):
- What are the project objectives?
- Who is your target audience?
- What are the key messages the copy needs to communicate?
2. Know who you’re talking to
When you try to appeal to everyone, you don’t grab anyone’s attention.
Write your marketing copy with a specific audience in mind. It helps you craft the right message, choose the most powerful words and attract the people most likely to buy your products or use your services.
Top tip: A useful place to start is to think about your customers and build profiles based on what you know about them.
Building profiles based on demographics – or who the audience is, is helpful. But psychographic profiling is where the magic happens. That’s when we dig into what makes your audience tick to understand why and how they buy.
Here are 5 questions to get you started:
- What keeps your audience awake at night (relevant to your business)?
- What are their hobbies and interests?
- What do they value most in their life? Their career might be the most important thing to them, or perhaps they put their closest friends above everything else.
- What are their spending habits? They could put quality over cost or prefer to spend less and replace often.
- What’s their life stage? Maybe they’re heading towards retirement or just beginning their career.
3. Grab attention
A good headline can make the difference between your copy getting noticed and losing your audience to the competition (or cat videos!). They’re super important for SEO copywriting too.
When you’ve written your headlines, test each one against these criteria to whittle them down to one:
- Is it unique?
- Is it specific?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it urgent?
4. Keep their attention
While it’s tempting to talk about what you do – don’t. Instead, focus on what you do for your customers or clients. Because that’s what they care about: what’s in it for them.
At the end of every point you make in your copy, ask yourself this question until you reach the ultimate benefit for your reader:
- So what?
5. Mindset and motivators AKA THE BIG WHY
Understanding consumer behaviour and the mindset of our audience is a massive part of the copywriting process. One of the things I always consider when writing copy is the audience’s motivators – the things that drive their purchasing decisions.
When you understand your audience’s motivations, you can tap into them through your text.
Which of these 12 motivators (developed by the ‘father of motivational research’ Ernest Dichter) sit behind your audience’s decisions?
- Moral purity/cleanliness
- Social acceptance
- Mastery over one’s environment
6. Keep it simple
If you want your copy to be read, understood and remembered, keep sentences short, paragraphs brief and your messages concise. Stick to shorter words and avoid jargon at all costs.
Readability is crucial, and a good test is the Flesch Reading Ease score and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score. Some apps give you a detailed analysis of readability, but the Word ‘Check Document’ function does a great job too.
Check that your copy achieves these scores:
- Flesch Reading Ease: 60+
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 8
7. Skim-reading, scanning and sub-headings
Most of us are time-poor and information-hungry so set out your copy for skim reading. That means PLENTY of sub-headings. Make sure your reader can take away key messages without needing to read every word.
Use your sub-headings to introduce your next point and keep them as compelling as your main headings.
At the end of your first draft, ask yourself:
- Do I know what this is about ‘at-a-glance’?
- Can I pick up the key messages by scanning the copy?
- Does a ‘skim read’ make me want to dive into the copy?
8. Be specific…
Avoid sweeping statements. Specificity adds credibility. Providing precise details suggest authenticity and in turn, engenders trust. Ask yourself:
- Where can I add facts, stats and other figures?
- Can I replace general statements with specific data or source information?
9. Sprinkle in some social proof
Social proof is sooo powerful. It’s based on the idea that in situations where we’re uncertain about how to behave, we follow the actions of others, assuming it must be the correct behaviour.
And it can be seriously powerful when it comes to helping your audience choose your product or service over another.
When we’re browsing a company’s web page and see an industry expert recommending their product, that’s social proof. When we’re reading a business brochure and someone with the same problem as us, solved it by using their service – that’s social proof.
Social proof adds credibility to your claims and creates trust in your products or services. Here are some ways you could add social proof to your copy:
- Show how many people have already purchased your products or services
- Add a customer testimonial
- Include an expert endorsement
- Insert client logos
10. Prove your point
Case studies are so effective because they let you show real-life examples of how beneficial your product or service is. And you can supercharge them by including a quote from your customer or client.
Your case study should be as long or short as it needs to be depending on what you’re writing but should always cover the following:
- The problem or your customer’s goal
- How your product or service solved the problem or achieved their goal
- The benefits your product or service delivered for your customer
11. The call to action
Your headline might be the most magnetic headline ever written, and your copy could be your most compelling yet. But unless you tell your reader what you want them to do next and how it’ll benefit them – you’ve wasted your time.
Whether you want them to visit your website, join your email list, buy your product or book a call with you, your copy needs a call to action (CTA).
Here are 4 ways to make your CTA stronger:
- Use ‘action’ words like visit, subscribe, buy, call and ‘get started’
- Add some urgency to trigger action NOW
- Give your reader a reason to say yes by telling them how they’ll benefit
- Make your CTAs easy to spot
12. CUT! Then cut some more
Editing your copy is just as important as the writing process. Less is more when it comes to tempting someone to read your text. It takes less effort and time, and it’s more readable and memorable too.
Try these tips to tighten up your copy:
- Remove superfluous words – filler words and those that don’t add enough impact to warrant keeping
- Highlight every sentence or phrase that isn’t essential. Shorten, reword or cut completely
- Cut waffle – that’s anything that delays the reader from getting to the point of the copy
- Simplify long-winded explanations
- Delete unclear or ambiguous phrases
- Swap long words for shorter ones
- Limit your use of adjectives
Want to leave it to a professional copywriter?
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While this article definitely isn’t about a hard sell, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some people and organisations will still want what you’re offering.
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You might only get one or two opportunities a year to run a direct mail fundraising appeal, so it’s critical that you leave nothing to chance.