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Are you struggling to convert leads? Are you wrestling with words? Do you need a leg-up in crafting conversion-driven copy that drives traffic to your website?
Copywriting is a hard skill to master, but it can be learned with training and practice. This guide will give you the tools you need to create thumb-stopping digital marketing copy, including 21 copywriting tips and tricks and examples of good copywriting in action. Plus, find out how artificial intelligence is changing the copywriting landscape for marketers and content creators.
First, let’s define copywriting.
Copywriting and content writing are terms often used interchangeably, but they are two very different things.
Content writing refers to writing that isn’t directly tied to a transaction. Its intention isn’t to get someone to hand over their money, for instance. Instead, it’s designed to nurture a lead through the sales funnel. The blog you’re reading now is an example of content writing.
The purpose of content: To inform and engage.
Examples of content writing include:
Copywriting, on the other hand, intends to sell something. ‘Copy’ refers to the words that make someone buy your product or service.
The purpose of copy: To convert.
Examples of copy include:
The words on your website / landing pages (including exit-intent pop-ups)
Advertisements (print, online, social media, video/audio)
Basic sales copy must include the following:
What you do
How you can help the customer
How their lives will be better once they purchase
Below are some examples of clear, prescriptive copy:
We help you [look younger] with [these specially formulated skincare masks] that [contain a hydrating ingredient].
[Capture and convert new leads] with our [marketing automation software].
Both writing forms are critical to marketing, but copy is where the money is at (literally).
It’s worth mentioning that the traditional role of the copywriter in an advertising agency environment extends to creative strategy and ideation. In this blog, we’re speaking to digital copywriting as it pertains to marketing teams.
The first and most crucial step in writing copy is to know who you are talking to.
It’s impossible to write for ‘everyone’, but luckily that isn’t the goal here. Instead, create a persona of a typical customer or lead. A persona profile is a valuable tool you can return to again and again when communicating with your audience. It should include characteristics, such as:
How/where they like to communicate/interact
When you have a clear view of your customer, you can put yourself in their shoes to write copy that purposefully and directly speaks to their wants and needs. Remember, your customers will always ask: “What’s in it for me?”
Online dating app Hinge gets to the crux of its audience’s wants and needs, with its slogan, “The dating app designed to be deleted.”
When you know who your audience is, you can tailor the language you use so it resonates with them. Use their words. For example, if your audience calls something a book but you’re calling it a reading device, or you use British English but they use American English, you probably won’t reach the right people.
As readers, we automatically switch off when we realise that the copy it isn’t targeted at us. We also switch off when the copy doesn’t sound authentic.
Good copywriting is human, not forced. For example, if you’re writing an email to promote a new product, you may be tempted to create urgency by saying, “For one night only, claim your limited-time offer before it expires at midnight!” As a reader, you probably wouldn’t respond to this because it sounds gimmicky.
Below is an email from Sonos, a manufacturer of audio products. Its language reads naturally and appeals to customers’ desires.
If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it.
Good copywriting gets straight to the point. It doesn’t get lost, led astray, or diverge off-piste. Leave the complex, mind-bending prose to a different medium.
A good copywriter should remember to return to the core message. Any tangents or sub-points that occur should strengthen that core message.
Uber’s website does this well. In just a few words, it explains what it is and what the benefits are for the end user.
Good copywriting talks to the readers’ pain points. It highlights a problem and provides the solution.
By thinking about the needs of your audience and how your offering can transform their lives, you will engage them and forge greater customer-brand trust.
A good example is the landing page of London-based “wonky” produce delivery service, Oddbox. Their customers are those who care about reducing food waste, so their copy goes straight to the heart and provides a solution.
Copywriting faux pas happen often, and they come in all shapes and sizes. The worst kind is when the copy is tone-deaf or alienates readers. Before publishing copy in any medium, ensure it isn’t offensive or off-putting.
For example, you may want to refer to Christmas as the holiday/festive season instead. This may seem innocuous, but it can make a huge impact when it comes to driving engagement. You should also make sure you’re never resorting to stereotyping. For example, even if you know that nine out of 10 of your customers are female, you can’t make assumptions about their priorities, goals, or their penchant for pink.
Fact: You have eight seconds (at most) to capture someone’s attention. That’s how long the average reader’s attention span is. A copywriter’s job is to use those precious few seconds to convince the reader not to divert their gaze.
Think of the opening line as the hook. A strong opening line intrigues, shocks, or humors. It could be a statement, or a problem, but its job is to stop the reader in their tracks and compel them to keep reading.
See how alternative milk brand Oatly captures readers’ attention through its ads using humor and a sarcasm.
Language that evokes thoughts and feelings is powerful and persuasive. It can help your audience to visualize your offerings in the context of their own lives. After all, if they can’t imagine using your products, they will not connect with you.
When it comes to copywriting, the key words are succinct and clarity. Avoid fluffy, vague, or generalised statements. In fact, clarity trumps creativity, so if you can’t achieve both, choose clarity.
Unfortunately, many corporate websites often have copy like this: “We strive to make the world a better place through the implementation of smarter systems to ensure fairer outcomes for our customers.”
This copy is frustrating because it’s meaningless. It doesn’t say what the company actually does.
Tell the reader how you can benefit them. For instance, if you sell air conditioners, you might say, “We keep you comfortable throughout the summer months.” This enables the reader to make a quick connection between your offering and their advantage.
An example: In their ad for the first-generation iPod, Apple didn’t drone on about the amount of gigabytes it had, or how much the device weighed, or list any other technical specifications. They simply appealed to the consumer’s emotions by saying: “I,000 songs in your pocket.”
The internet is highly saturated, and competition is rife. If you’re competing with a business who has a similar product offering, your best bet is to show why yours is better.
Below, see how pillow brand Blissy sets itself apart.
Speak directly to your audience using first and second-person pronouns like “you,” “me,” or “we”. This will help you to build a strong relationship with your audience and the copy will have a greater impact.
Using third-person pronouns like “she,” “he,” and “they” creates distance between you and the reader, which won’t achieve desired results.
The headline is the most important line of copy on the page. Remember the 80/20 rule of headlines: on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
A great headline is your shortcut to success. A bad headline means your content doesn’t resonate at all.
Don’t get stuck in the starting blocks trying to create magic headlines. Instead, write placeholder text, get words on a page, and go back the headline later. This way, you’re removing the pressure to come up with a genius headline off the bat – giving yourself permission to progress with your actual writing. Plus, writing will almost always inspire better ideas.
Reading is a skill and attention spans are waning, so your copy needs to be easy to read (more likely skim-read). Getting carried away with long sentences and (worse) long words will make it harder for readers to absorb the information – especially if they’re reading on a mobile (just thinking how often their eyes have to flick from left to right!).
Sentences should be short, crisp and concise. And paragraphs should be short – avoid blocks of text if possible. And don’t be afraid of white space on a page.
See how social networking platform Dribbble uses minimal text to get across their point, meaning the reader doesn’t have to work hard to absorb information.
Never assume your reader knows what you’re talking about, especially when it comes to terminology. You don’t need to write a glossary, but type out acronyms in the first instance.
For example: Ortto’s customer data platform (CDP) unifies your customer data to give you a single view of the customer journey across all channels.
Build a better journey.
Your writing can always be improved, even if you’ve been writing for years.
When you’re proofing your own work, don’t be afraid to rewrite sentences and paragraphs. And if they don’t add value, delete them entirely.
Forget about how clever you felt when you wrote it, and remove any emotional attachment. Your readers will not be impressed if it doesn’t make sense.
Chances are, you’re writing too much copy.
Overly-long copy can happen because of an arbitrary word limit, but often it’s because we get carried away writing.
It’s OK to let your words flow freely during your first draft, but make sure the final edit is about filtering out the parts of your copy that aren’t useful.
You’ll be amazed at how much is repetitive or unnecessary. Don’t waste your audience’s time with excessive text that lacks value.
There’s no shame in getting a second pair of eyes on your work. In fact, it’s advised. Humans are error-prone and there’s no shame in a typo. Before publishing or hitting ‘send’, give it to at least one colleague for a sense check. It could be the difference between a win and a disaster.
Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but nothing will compromise integrity quite as quickly as bad grammar. Below, see how important a simple comma is:
“Let’s eat, Grandma!”
“Let’s eat Grandma!”
To ensure your grammar is on point and pesky typos are non-existent, install a plug-in like Grammarly. There’s no shame – even full-time writers need their grammar checked.
Don’t underestimate the importance of SEO when writing copy for your website. It is the gatekeeper of online discoverability.
Quick SEO best practice tips include:
Anlalyze top-ranking articles (word/image count)
Use headings (H2, H3)
Use bulleted/numbered lists
While SEO is important, remember that with conversion-driven copy, people > Google. Your job is to convert a stranger into a lead, and a lead into a customer, and that isn’t possible when you’re thinking more about SEO than speaking human-to-human. Getting the balance right is an art.
If you’ve convinced a reader to get all the way to the end of your copy or you’ve directed them to your website, you’re a hero. Now, you have to get them to take action.
Writing call-to-action (CTA) copy is tough. Obvious examples are “Buy now” or “Click here to find out more” but they’re not very creative. Remember who your customer is, and appeal directly to them.
DNA service 23andMe uses powerful language and tugs on the heart strings to get people to buy their kits.
The creative industry is becoming automated at rocket-speed, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is swooping in on a huge range of written content. In fact, when it comes to optimized headlines and short form marketing copy, AI might already be doing it better. Users of Ortto can leverage AI to craft email subject lines that motivate subscribers to open emails.
But will robots actually be capable of creative work? And will they replace copywriters altogether?
To answer these questions, it’s useful to understand more about the AI platforms that have the capability of writing copy today.
Natural language processing (NLP) is the catch-all term that enables machines to process, understand, create, and respond to language. It’s broken down into two major elements: natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language generation (NLG). NLU and NLG are what make machine-generated copy feel and sound human.
Where regular language processing just looks at sentence structure, NLU attempts to comprehend the pragmatic meaning of language. Natural language and speech are sprinkled with nuances, references, idioms, expression, context, colloquialisms, and more – NLU is designed to navigate these complex human expressions.
Take these two statements:
“We need to chat, baby!”
“We need to chat, babe…”
If you received one of these statements in a text, you would understand the meaning behind it intuitively. Number two, however, doesn’t sound like good news.
The context is instantly apparent to a human. To a machine, not so much. NLU is working to help AI comprehend and create these nuances in language.
NLG is the process that helps a machine turn structured data into text – you can see it in action in AI-powered voice applications like Google’s Home Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. These applications are impressive, but in a nutshell, are essentially uploading and displaying data within a set template.
In the coming years, NLG is set to become much more advanced than today’s consumer products. Teams are currently developing AI that can identify the focus and intent of content, and write it in the same way humans do. Though, for complex copy, it isn’t totally autonomous yet.
Humans still need to watch over any copy-generating AI to ensure the NLG algorithm hasn’t generated anything nonsensical.
Copywriters tend to romanticize their jobs as an art (I already did so in this blog), but rather, it’s a science. In fact, marketing copy is rarely about saving something new or creative – it’s formulaic. NLG can easily analyze and reproduce copy that generates the best engagement.
One of the most well-known advertising copywriters, David Oglivy famously said: “Do not worship at the altar of creativity.” And truly, good copywriters never have. They know their audience responds best to emotional triggers.
In the near future, autonomous marketing products are set to take this even further with AI-generated copy that sits neatly within fully-fledged customer journeys. It’s going to be a massive reality check for copywriters worldwide.
Not completely, no. The copywriter of the future will have a job, it’ll just look a little different.
With autonomous marketing poised to reinvent the creative landscape, the copywriters of the future will likely be working in multiple capacities, such as:
Sense-checking what AI algorithms are producing, and choosing the best variations
Briefing the AI on topics
Being high-level creatives with authority on brand voice and style
Creating nuanced, long-form content
The last one is interesting. While NLG tools excel at writing content with criterion and simple objectives, they simply cannot produce long-form content. For now, only humans possess native-level language mastery needed to produce content of this kind.
Complex ideas, subtleties, humor, empathy, and nuanced discussion just aren’t within the capabilities of AI…yet. But keep your eyes peeled, because machines will replace copywriters who cling to outdated methods and traditional values.
Despite the predictions, human copywriters will be at an advantage in the future. Aided by AI, tomorrow’s copywriter may serve as a creative pilot – navigating topics and telling “creative” machines when to shift gears.
By allowing AI to take the weight of repetitive and predictable content, copywriters will have more time to focus on what really makes them valuable: telling wonderful, engaging stores and executing brand tone of voice.
Copywriting is a tricky skill to master, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The key is to remember your audience, appeal to their needs and wants, and talk to them in a natural, human way. If you do this, the best-case scenario is you’ll convert them into paying customers, and the worst case is you’ll turn them into a known, curious user.
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