10 Tips To Sharpen Your Copywriter Skills
All the copywriters I know are always looking for ways to sharpen their copywriting skills. From the newbies to the old pros – everyone takes pride in their work being as flawless as possible.
Well, I sense you banging on the door – can’t wait to get started – so here we go with the first of the tip to sharpen your copywriting skills.
Most of the time when I do lists like this, I don’t try to put the items in order of importance…BUT…I started off with “Write Clearly” because it is absolutely, positively the most critical copywriting skill you can have. Jack Trout, whose marketing books are an important part of any business library, put it well, succinctly, and very clearly, when he wrote in The Power Of Simplicity, “Never trust anyone you don’t understand”.
Much research shows that unclear writing is the primary reason readers stop reading. Readers who stop reading your website, ad, brochure, etc. will not be buyers. So write clearly, so as never to confuse or be misunderstood. Write like your business depends on it. Because it does.
(Also see my article “Don’t Write So That You Can Be Understood; Write So You Can’t Be Misunderstood”.
No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest documents ever written said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do”. Write concisely – or as my first Madison Avenue mentor put it, “Write tight”.
Most of the articles I write for the Write Like A Madman University Blog come in between 500 and 1200 words. Compare this to the Declaration of Independence which gave us all those timeless thoughts in only 1320 words. Mr Jefferson took his own advice.
When you write your copy, do you have a specific reader you’re writing to, in mind? I do. Why? I like to imagine myself sitting across my kitchen table from my “friend”, having a conversation about the topic or product I’m writing about. Then I write like my friend talks. I use the words and everyday expression he or she uses. It could be I’m writing to a long-haul trucker, a doctor, a librarian, or perhaps a teenager. The copywriting skill of being able to “voice” your reader is one which all copywriters should work to develop.
Remember, your job is not to talk at the reader, but to have a conversation with the reader.
(You might want to watch my short video “My First Copywriting Lesson”…in which I relate the story of my first solo writing assignment.)
Write Customer-Focused Copy
Way too many websites, brochures, and marketing emails are focused on what they have to sell, rather than what the prospect needs. The words “I”, “we”, and “our” are more in evidence than “you”, “your”, and “yours”. It isn’t about you. It’s about your customer.
To start writing customer-focused copy, 1) keep your ego in check and, 2) center your writing on your customers – their needs, desires, and what will make their lives better. Do this and your chances of success are enhanced. Ignore this copywriting skills tip at your own peril.
Use Crossheads In Longer Copy
Look at the above line in red. This (and the others in this article) are called crossheads. They are used to separate copy into sections and give the reader a preview or hint of what’s coming next. The reason copywriters use crossheads is it makes the copy easier, faster, and more pleasant to read. Crossheads add to the readers’ willingness to read longer copy and leads to greater understanding of the marketing message.
Crossheads also do a great job of reminding the copywriter that dividing your longer copy into sections and addressing only one concept, or thought, at a time is what we're after.
One section of longer copy is tailor-made for writing in Thought Bites. These short sections of writing deal with one thought or concept and are often broken down into two or three parts.
- The Intro line that introduces the subject of the section to the reader.
- The core facts, message, or proposition of the section, and
- An outro line which either sums up the sections or leads the reader into the next section or thought bite.
Writing in Thought Bites is critical when you write stories, present facts or arguments, or explain a proposition.
Use Lists, Images, To Break Up Long Copy
Here’s an interesting fact: When your prospects are faced with pages of paragraph after paragraph, they tend to lose a lot of their enthusiasm for reading. Even if they should start, they often don’t finish the piece – in fact most quit around the mid-point.
Experiments using the same words in the same order but used bulleted or numbered lists and images such as charts, graphs, quote slates, photos to break up the look of solid words, add eye-pleasing white space, indents, and visuals get read at least 20%-30% more than without these eye-pleasing additions. It works on short copy, too.
“Bloviate” means to speak or write at length in a pompous or boastful manner. Bloviate was popularized by newsman and commentator Bill O’Reilly, and is the antithesis of writing in thought bites and must be avoided.
Small Businesses: Forget The Mission Statement
In my humble opinion, mission statements are mostly unnecessary, ridiculously worded, and a bit of bloviating – especially for small businesses. Okay, I understand that charities, political parties, medical centers, churches, and maybe NASA can spout highly idealistic mission statements, but a local print shop? A fast-food franchise? A piano teacher?
I like this quote by Simon Sinek and will let him finish this section.
It’s usually a good idea to finish a webpage, report, email, even a longer advertisement with a short “summary”. Trial lawyers like this old adage related to their audience – the jury. “First you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then you tell it to them. Then in summation, you tell them what you told them.” Try to wrap your summation up in a couple of sentences or a short paragraph.
On a Sales, or “Landing” page, your summing up leads right into your Call-To-Action (CTA)
Now, Let’s Add To Your Copywriting Know-How
If you’re a Wannabe Better Copywriter or Business Owner, here’s a nice Bonus for you. Get my FREE, popular, InfoGuide “5 Steps to Becoming a DARN GOOD Copywriter”
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